From anti-CAA movement to coronavirus crisis to farmers' protest, the blues of 2020
New Delhi | Tarun Gupta: It is that time of the year when you sit back and reminisce about the weeks and months gone by when in newspaper op-ed pages you expect to read a recapitulation of the past and expectations of the future. On that note, what would be the most clichéd line of 2020? “Covid crises is unprecedented” or perhaps “the world will not be the same again.”
So yes this pandemic has been one of its kind, sui generis and also seminal. You might be wondering if you needed yet another write up for that eureka moment.
They say that most articles struggle to hold reader interest beyond a few minutes. In order to provide that hook, I widened the ambit of my observation from one year to two decades, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. People of my age and older would have a vivid recollection of the start of the millennium. The first decade of the new millennia started with the Y to K bug and ended with a global economic meltdown that was then unprecedented. The second decade was off to a tepid start as a result and the end, of course, has been blemished by another unique crisis. Last 20 years, humanity has grappled with disruptions induced from digital to financial and now medical exigency.
Articulating this pattern of sorts, may not be insightful, should perhaps stoke some interest in the reader.
A palingenesis cannot be restricted to one event alone, as epochal it may be. This year was marred by protestations, perfervid and grotesque. The anti-CAA movement and Shaheen bagh blockade culminated into Delhi riots and even before the fire was doused, Covid engulfed. Now just as we had started to believe that the worst was behind, opposition to the new farm laws have triggered a fresh wave.
Contrary to what political opposition and certain sections of media would wish the world to believe about India veering towards autocracy, I think we are emerging as a nation of habitual dissenters. Rather than formulate solutions to our myriad problems, we seem to find a problem for every solution.
Right to protest is an inalienable part of liberal plural existence. It remains a travesty though as we are yet to imbibe the sentiment so evocatively expressed by Mahatma Gandhi, about the means to the end being as pure as the end itself. How is blocking highways, damaging public/private property peaceful? If democratic societies are melting pots, then devising non-agitational forms of protest and non-lethal ways of combating those protests are onerous upon the society and authority.
Form of protest should not of course shroud the substance. The substance is the warp and woof of any movement. Criticism apart from being peaceful and not aggressive should be for the right reasons as well. In a democracy, no government can escape rebuke. More so, in our kind of low per capita income developing economies and stratified societies, it’s rather simple to excoriate those in power. The tragedy is that our political opposition still struggles to find a substantive groundswell of reprobation.
Often the greatest impediment to evolution is inertia. On several occasions, inaction is the worst response. Our country suffered from decades of apathy where contentious issues were deliberately glossed over. This malignant neglect in due course resulted in not doing anything being accepted as the default state policy, perpetuating status quo as the preferred response. It is this static understanding that is now being impugned.
Politics isn’t just the skill of winning elections, it is also the art of governance, and governance entails decisions you take, the choices you make, not appeasing everybody. In a year and a half of its second term, whether restriction on triple talaq, dilution of article 370, Ram mandir, CAA, labour reforms, reduction in corporate tax, new education policy, reforming farm laws, this government has demonstrated that it isn’t going to tinker in the margins. The incrementalist approach of erstwhile regimes has been abandoned in favour of substantive changes. Isn’t this what the educated middle class was yearning for?
Sometime back, I saw on television, Rahul Gandhi referring to the farmers as Hindustan. This synecdoche has often been used in the context of agriculturists, workers and the general plebeian class. Hindustan is all of those and more. The whole is bigger than the sum total of the parts. If we still have to coin an apt microcosm, for me it will be the educated middle class. Often overlooked for lacking the political numeracy, it is the educated middle class irrespective of their profession, whether salaried or self-employed, worker or trader, farmer or professional, urban or rural that represents Hindustan. In this digital age, they are the opinion-makers and perception builders. They are conscious and aware, intelligent and informed, hard-working and wise. They are the soul of the nation. A nation that cannot cater to its soul will never flourish. This class should be at the heart of all policy formulations and not disrupted by any movement. They are the wheels of the country that should never be stalled. There can be no transformation without their integration.
So as to allay any charges that this piece is an encomium of the government, I shall reiterate that there is no dearth of objurgating factors. State of sanitation, taxation, infrastructure, law and order, judiciary, delivery of government service, the chasm between conception and execution is still a far cry from where we should be. If most economists support farm laws, almost in unison they had derided demonetisation that had wreaked havoc and prompted the risible rhetoric “hard work beats Harvard.”
To the political opposition, I can only say, please find the right reason and suitable mode of protest. If your reproaches do not resonate with the educated middle class, it is reflective of their perception of your credibility and your own inanity.
It is by now lucid to supporters and naysayers alike that the incumbent central ruling dispensation is on an overdrive mode to transform the social and economic landscape. Some may reject their ideology, you cannot, however, accuse them of stealth or incongruity. Their actions have been in consonance with their avowed objectives and have passed the test of the due constitutional process. That puts to rest charges of ultra vires conduct too.
One may argue that there are more who disagree with the actions of the government than those who endorse. If that is true, it is for the opposition leaders to channelize such a force. It works to their advantage that till date in India, vibrant communities are not forced into waiting for five years. There is some election every few months and disaffection, if any, can find expression at the hustings.
In the meanwhile, our country needs more activity than inaction. Ideology should never be compromised but at the same time, your philosophy cannot become an albatross preventing society from marching ahead.
May I end this prolix article with some condescending words?
The virtues of moderation shouldn’t be lost out in any protest. You cannot oppose daylight just because it will illuminate a miserable world.
Posted By: Aalok Sensharma