Farm laws U-Turn: The first chink in Modi’s infallibility

Modi is sorry that he repealed the farm laws. But he could not – as he could not with the 2002 pogrom under his watch – apologise or acknowledge the suffering caused by his actions

Farm laws U-Turn: The first chink in Modi’s infallibility

Ranjona Banerji

Narendra Modi said he was sorry.

Ha ha ha. That is not really true.

He said he was sorry that he was going to repeal his unwanted farm laws. He was not sorry because the farm laws were bad in conception and detail. He was not sorry that close to 700 farmers had died while protesting against “reforms” they did not want. He was not sorry that his government and his party had used bullets, sticks, cars, tear gas, water cannons to kill, maim and attack farmers protesting for their lives and livelihoods.

He was not sorry that he, his party and his army of rabid supporters called India’s farmers: traitors, anti-nationals, Khalistanis, stupid, too rich to know anything, not poor and stupid enough, had no right to be educated, wear jeans, own cars…

The physical violence and verbal insults are too many to recount. But cannot and should not be forgotten. The deaths are not to be forgotten. The pain is not to be forgotten. The enormous sacrifice the farmers and their families made is not to be forgotten. Public memory is short and the publicity machinery of the Modi Manufacturing Unit is very strong and relentless.

It may appear to some that for now, Modi’s supporters are upset that their Great Hero has capitulated. To settle this restless flock some massive upheaval to everyone else will have to be planned and executed. As we have seen over the last seven years, there are no rules which Modi and his advisors find it necessary to follow. The crackdown if it comes will be vicious, hard, manipulative and destructive.

There are few narratives running around at the moment to understand why Modi did what he did. The most obvious is to win the UP elections, any fool can see that. If they get Punjab as well by trying to soft-soap Sikh farmers, well and good.

The other is to put the Opposition on the backfoot and that means the Congress. That no party can use the farmers’ protest against the BJP because Modi has declared his intent to repeal the farm laws.

But somewhere lurking about Modi’s statement and the decision to make this announcement, there are some curiosities to resolve. Modi’s strength – or STREAHN – is of an Unbeatable Unbudgeable Genius. So why sacrifice UUG and make him sound weak and plaintive?

Has someone in the Modi Department of Falsehood decided that the man needs some fake humility injected into his persona? Two steps back, one step sideways? MDF is robust, to use one of right-wing Hindutva’s favourite words, even as it emits poisonous fumes. But is it infallible?

Because curiously, what Modi has done by making this announcement, is displayed a chink in his infallibility. Even his cheerleaders have found it difficult to applaud this move as a masterstroke. Despite the devious machinations that may be behind this decision, in its essence, 11 months of endless protests and sacrifice have won.

The RSS and the Hindutva right-wing have always derided India’s freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi, ahimsa and the idea of satyagraha or non-violent civil disobedience. The farmers’ protests therefore really rankled.

The farmers were well-organised, well-informed, assured and self-sufficient. Despite the violence wrought upon them, they were steadfast. The enormous pressure they faced did not deter them. The elements they were well prepared for.

The deaths of these farmers – and this can never be emphasized enough – will remain one of this administration’s biggest shames. Modi is sorry that he repealed the farm laws. But he could not – as he could not with the 2002 pogrom under his watch – apologise or acknowledge the suffering caused by his actions.

And it has to be admitted even by his well-wishers, also his extreme incompetence. Agriculture in India needs reform. But you cannot do that without the active assistance and inputs from agriculturalists themselves. Modi had started to believe the mythology he himself invented about his omniscience.

Of course, it has been obvious from day one of his rule that the top-down know-it-all approach has been a disaster and has only underlined Modi’s incompetence. It has been the spread of hatred, of Islamophobia specifically, which has kept the BJP in power. It has given the party money and influence. All this has given India nothing. It has impoverished millions. It has destroyed our democracy. And it has divided us almost to breaking point.

By standing firm for 11 months, without violence and bombast, India’s farmers have showed Modi up. That is why he is sorry. He’s seen the cracks in the image of his own making.

Beware the reaction of a cornered…

(Ranjona Banerji is an independent commentator. Views expressed are personal)

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