Indian Democracy in Retreat: A Case for the Indian Farmers

Barricades were set, water cannons were sprayed, tear gas was used and even highway was dug to quell thousands of protesters rejecting the three Agricultural Acts passed by the India parliament. The demonstrations under Dilli Chalo (Let’s go to Delhi) Movement have shaken the highest echelons of Modi government with the massive global attention. However, Modi government, known for its audacious reforms targeting specific communities, is feeling less bridled in response with brutal use force against the farmers, hailing mostly from the largest agricultural provinces Punjab and Haryana. In doing so, the BJP government has undermined the basic values of democracy and freedom of association for the due rights of the farmers not also with its controversial reforms but also with the treatment of the demonstrations itself.

In December last year, the same BJP government found itself in hot waters for introducing the controversial CAA-NRC laws targeting minorities including Muslims and revocation of Article 35A and 370 from the Indian constitution to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its special status which attracted widespread criticism. This time, however, the Sikhs of Punjab are the primary targets of the draconian legislations of the BJP government. More insulting to the democracy is the deliberate neglect of the government in consulting the stakeholders including the opposition and passes the laws from the parliament with a classic use of majoritarianism.

Critical analysis of the Agricultural reforms suggests that it gives more autonomy to the corporate sector while deepens farmers exploitation by deregulating the sale prices of the agricultural production. Abolishing the guarantee under Minimum Support Prices (MSP), the reforms aggravates the farmers’ insecurity about purchase of their produce, especially the wheat in Haryana and Punjab which was previously procured 65 percent by the government as part of the MSP. Besides this, it strips the farmers of their already declining bargaining power to sell their produce at reasonable prices and privileges the corporate sectors to push down the prices and affect the farmers earning. Therefore, the reforms are slammed as ‘corporate friendly and anti-farmer’ with a draconian nature affecting a large portion of the proletariat.  

Despite Modi’s bold claims of his intentions being “as pure as the River Ganges”, his latest series of three Agricultural reforms enlarges the gap between the rich bourgeoisie corporate sector and proletariat farmers in an India which already struggles with a huge agricultural disparity. The top 10 percent of the households owns 50 percent of India’s total cultivable land while leaves only 0.5 percent for the rest of the bottom 50 percent which is on steady decline. Now interestingly, the bold claims of the government regarding improvement in farmers’ earning with the legislations are ill founded in an agrarian structure where 85 percent of the farmers falls either in small or marginal category with less than 2 hectares of cultivable land. By undermining the MSP and APMC, the legislations are expected to exploit the large proportion of the farmers and hence damage the fragile structure of Indian agrarian edifice.

India, whose 60% population relies on agriculture and the labeled ‘largest democracy’, is subject to a social contract with its more than a billion people to mitigate their socioeconomic concerns. Prime Minister Modi The BJP government and the rightwing propaganda on the other hand doubles down on the protests’ legitimacy by linking them with ‘Khalistan’, a movement that seeks independence from India, and labeling them as ‘misguided’ and ‘anti-nationals’. Modi called the protests a norm in response to any legislation the government comes with, however, what he forgets to mention is the unbridled use of force and the extra-judicial labeling of individuals and groups demanding their due rights as anti-national and traitors which brings democracy in India to the darkest level found anywhere in history.

Shive Sena leaders have even demanded the government to  conduct surgical strike on neighboring states following the Union Minister Rao Saheb Danve’s accusation on Pakistan and China for backing the protests which is a strategic mockery of the democratic norms found in the ‘largest democracy’ on earth.

Irrespective of the government’s efforts to demonize the peaceful protests by the aggrieved Indian farmer’s by linking them with foreign propaganda, the farmers continue to earn unwavering international support. The Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau expressed his concern over treatment of Indian farmers and reiterated Canada’s commitment to stand behind the Indian farmers in their due ‘right of peaceful protests’, ignoring the warnings issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs the previous day. Not only this, the British MPs and US lawmakers such as Doug Lamalfa have also voiced their concerns over the ‘misguided and manipulative government regulations’ which threatens the livelihood of the Indian farmers.

The case for the Indian farmers is simple, defining movement and a test for the Indian democracy. The continuous grievances of the Indian Sikhs and brutal treatment of the peaceful protests reminds them of the carnage on Golden Temple in Indian military Operation Blue Star that killed hundreds of unarmed civilians back in 1984 and a series of human rights violations since then. This has resulted in years of state alienation among the Punjabis which could further aggravate if their concerns over the Agricultural legislations are not addressed by the Indian government.

The new set of agricultural reforms is set to encourage systemic weakening of the Indian farmers and make them subordinate to the privileged corporate by stripping them of their autonomy over their value of production. However, this time, when the Punjabi Sikhs in tens of thousands in number are there to confront and give the Indian government a ‘bloody nose’, the Indian government should demonstrate flexibility and negotiate with the farmers to ensure the due rights of their farming.   

Like all the previous legislations, the reforms challenge the vision of a democratic India that Gandhi fought for and Nehru set the foundation for to emerge as welfare state. Nexus with the rightwing propagandists, linking democratic movements with Pakistan and likens mere issues of socioeconomic concerns to separatist movement like Khalistan, and labeling the individuals and groups as anti-national are the vital undemocratic tools continuously used by the BJP government in the Center to promote their malign agendas. Whether it is the NRC-CAA, removal of Article 370 and 35A, or it is the systemic weakening of the farmers in Punjab, the current BJP government continuous to threaten the credibility of India as a democratic country. Therefore, India needs a systemic recheck to its constitutional compliance before finding a place in the row of respected democracies and its aspired position as the regional power in South Asia.

Khadijah Saeed
Khadijah Saeed
Khadijah Saeed is a bachelor’s student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. She is a prolific writer on war and peace, security and conflict resolution. Her areas of interest include South and Central Asia, history and contemporary conflicts in the Middle East.