Government Policy

The Winter of Discontent

By Sarabjeet Dhody Natesan

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus

The third major flash-point; after the anti CAA protests, the great migrant walk, and one that a country recovering from a pandemic can ill afford to accommodate, the farmers’ movement has shaken India to its constitutional core. The growing unrest and ever-increasing numbers of farmers and people related to agriculture congregating at the three borders that connect Delhi to the rest of India have unsettled the government. But the government is still not willing to compromise and hold meaningful talks with the unions representing the agitating citizens of India.

The central provisions of the farm bills have brought the citizens of India out on the roads in what is quickly turning out to be one of the biggest peacetime congregations the world has seen.  Much has already been written about the three bills. It is equally important to understand the damage to the larger Constitution rights the governments’ adventures have wreaked on the people of India.

In legislating the three farm bills, the Centre encroached upon a subject on the State list first, Concurrent List second. That too without consulting with the States before appropriating Union overreach of the Constitution and the laws. In surpassing its jurisdiction to write the three farm bills and undermining State power, it is setting a precedent that could be applied to other spheres later.

In writing the laws through an ordinance first and rushing and pushing them through the two houses of Parliament without meaningful debates, the government has used its power to subvert the democratic requirement of legislative procedure. It has also ignored the voices of the stakeholders and the opposition. And in not sending the bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture for review, it bypassed the process ordained in the Constitution.

In codifying the three farm bills and absolving itself of enforcing any contractual obligations on the dominant party, the government has given sweeping powers to its bureaucrats to implement policy and played into the hands of crony-capitalism by pre-indemnifying them. In closing avenues of legal redressal to the farmers against such contracts, it is denying the citizens of India their right to legal action against grievous financial harm – a right enshrined in the Constitution of India.

In blocking the borders of Delhi to prevent the farmers from reaching and gathering in the nation’s capital, the Centre has denied the citizens of India, their inalienable right to move freely in India, a right that the Constitution confers on them.

And, last but not least, the State has erred egregiously in lathi-charging, tear-gassing, and water cannon-ing the peaceful march of the protestors; the Constitution of India enshrines the right to peaceful protests for the people of India. 

The complicated and intricately linked farm bills are a worry for the entire agrarian sector and India’s food security issues. The worry arises not only from what has been inked in but also from what is left unsaid. Big gaps that will help create lacunae and loopholes to be interpreted as desirable. The language of the bills is corporate, the implementation by corporates too.

The government is partially agreeable to amending the bills, but as we understand the Constitution, amendments can be re-amended too. And if they are, it will be next to impossible to galvanize another mass movement. The effort to organize the voices of the agricultural sector, that the ongoing agitation has accomplished, cannot be taken for granted. The supreme sacrifice of the 60 (at last count) farmers can neither be side-lined nor forgotten. The bills cannot be left in limbo, they have to be repealed. And re-written after consultations with the stakeholders of the agricultural sector and not shareholders of the corporates.

With a corporate agenda to be fulfilled, in the face of an unexpected and intensifying organic movement protesting the three Black Laws, the government of Narendra Modi has unfortunately hardened its stand. It is equally unfortunate that the farmers asking for involvement and representation in the framing of the legislations have been labelled anti-national and saboteurs. They have been called misled and misinformed. Their vast generational and traditional knowledge is being ridiculed for scant corporate information. The food providers are being stuck with begging bowls. The protectors of our borders have been trapped along the borders of the national capital.

The government has forgotten that India moves on the farming sector and community. India moves on the linkages the agricultural sector creates. India moves on the pyramid the farmers build. The pyramid starts with them, the base big and wide, it then excludes them and the other marginalized sectors and tapers, and becomes a sharp rarefied apex.

At the apex is the system that strengthens the image of the government. In addition to controlling the supply-chains, the system also controls the fourth pillar of our democracy, the media. And the one who controls the media then controls and shapes the perceptions of the masses. And the perceptions point to the largess waiting to reach the agricultural sector when the power of these bills is unleashed. And therefore, mocks the ungrateful farmer for refusing the manna from heaven, channelled by the current government.

The government has forgotten the base of the mountain and remembered only the peak, knowing very well that it does not represent the true spirit of India. The true India is sitting out in the winter cold, in the rain, in the hail, protesting valiantly, eating in community kitchens, bathing in makeshift spaces, sleeping in trolleys and tents. Away from home and hearth. Resolute and enduring of every hardship nature and the authorities hurls its way. Making itself available for any state overture, but steadfast in its demand for the total repeal of the three laws.

The winter of discontent is a harbinger of an unshakable summer.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. AlignIndia does not take any responsibility for the content of the article.

(Sarabjeet Dhody Natesan is a student of Economics and Policy and teaches at a Liberal Arts University in the South of India. She lives near her favourite seashore, in Chennai, with her family)

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