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HomeOpinionsRepeal of Farm Laws: Vocal minority wins over silent majority

Repeal of Farm Laws: Vocal minority wins over silent majority

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PM Modi once again lives up to his reputation of springing surprises. Just that the surprise this time, has neither amused his supporters, nor has it pacified the protesters. Many think this is just a political move with an eye on upcoming Punjab and UP elections, while others believe this is only a tactical retreat. Some also say that there were rising national security concerns with these protests being funded and hijacked by anti-national forces, particularly the overseas pro-Khalistan organizations to incite insurgency in Punjab and other parts of India.

While the real reason behind this abrupt rollback may never be known, this could easily proliferate ‘protest-politics’ that was first piloted at Shaheen Bagh, aimed at arm-twisting the state by using the democratic tools of peaceful protests. Both Shaheen Bagh and farmers’ protests clearly point out how a miniscule minority backed by vested interests can be made powerful enough to have their way in thwarting the decisions taken by elected governments, that are otherwise supported by a vast but silent majority. This phenomenon not just vitiates the basic democratic principle of rule by majority, but more importantly, has the capacity to subvert the authority of constitutional institutions like the parliaments and courts and thus can potentially push a peace-loving country into protracted anarchy.

It is a matter of common knowledge that competitive geopolitics has a big role in domestic developments. Foreign governments, big-tech companies, multinationals, media and civil society work in tandem to destabilize a fast-developing economy like India with a clear intent to maintain their economic, military, ideological and political supremacy over the world. Deficient democracies like India, perforated by colonial legacies of social disharmony, poverty, income inequalities corrupt institutions and a sizable population whose votes can be easily influenced through electoral lozenges, become easy targets for their perverse agenda.

Demoralization, destabilization, crisis creation and ‘normalization’ used to be a well-crafted Soviet strategy for subverting liberal countries. This has been explained in detail by Yuri Bezmenov, a former Soviet spy, who defected in 1970s (watch his interview here). As early as 1983, he explains how countries can be brought into an irreversible crisis using this formula. After the fall of Soviet Union, the West has happily expropriated this strategy against developing nations. The only difference is that instead of a hostile military takeover of the target country, a ‘regime change’ is instigated following a crisis. In the end, victory of democracy is declared upon installation of an amenable government.   

In democracies like India, unelected people presiding over powerful institutions like media, courts and civil society wield disproportionate power, as compared to elected representatives, again thanks to the colonial spoils. This renders the right-thinking silent majority voiceless, while small groups of people who are accountable to none, call the shots. They exert substantial influence on public policy and can stall reforms at their sweet will without having to bother about consequences. As it happened with farm laws, the Supreme Court meekly granted precedence to the fundamental right of a few farmers to protest, and completely ignored the resultant abject violation of the fundamental right to free movement on Delhi borders of lakhs of commoners The apex  court also dauntlessly sat on the report of its own expert committee without facing a whimper. The media and opposition obviously towed the line of protestors sensing a political gain. This is how a strong and vocal minority triumphed over the laws passed by the parliament of India – laws that were silently supported by a vast majority of farmers across the country, apart from experts. What a victory for democracy.

Reforms, by their very nature, tend to benefit large sections of the society in the long run but also hurt some sections instantly, especially those who have skimmed the system in absence of reform. Since the benefits (to many) of reforms are distant and contingent but the banes (to some) are real and immediate, those who stand to lose will react immediately, while the potential gainers may prefer to wait and watch. Humans, just like animals, fight harder to prevent losses than to achieve gains. Bedfellows like vested political interests, only worsen this well-known behavioural anomaly.

If reforms are to be salvaged, the silent majority supporting them has to be given a voice, much beyond the ritual of voting in elections, once in 5 years. Western democracies undertake several referendums during the currency of elected governments for this very reason, which perhaps explains why they are able to see through the most difficult of reforms like Brexit without much of a ruckus on streets. Indian democracy has also reached a stage where it can ill-afford to allow unelected and unaccountable powers to bulldoze reforms that are more than overdue.

A referendum on the three farm laws among the almost 11 crore Aadhar linked beneficiary farmers of PM KISAN scheme, could have perhaps saved the country from a pernicious attempt to veto this crucial agriculture reform. It would have also prevented future replicas of such motivated protests. Similarly, for labour reforms, that appear to be the next big target, a referendum among all the employees registered with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO), who are again Aadhar linked, can offer an effective counter. The same route can be successfully adopted for more substantive national interest initiatives like CAA, NRC, population control bill, anti-conversion bill and Uniform Civil Code, which are bound to be met with hostile opposition from small but powerful interest groups.

No doubt, referendums are costly, particularly for a huge country like India and involve mammoth administrative exercise. But this cost is nothing when compared with the opportunity cost of lost reforms and the ignominy of governments having to repeal laws enacted by themselves. Referendums raise the bar of democracy by seeking the citizens’ assent  on critical issues of national importance and most importantly, provide a decisive voice to the silent majority. They can democratically smother the subversive forces that misuse democracy to spark anarchy. It is a democratic response to undemocratic forces acting under the veil of democracy. In India where consensus on reforms is next to impossible, referendums can substantiate the sanctity of reforms and accord greater moral authority to the state while taking coercive action on unwieldy protests driven by ulterior motives, if required. Referendums will also refrain the judiciary from encroaching into policy and governance matters and will restrict them to their core function of interpretation of law.

In absence of enabling constitutional/legal framework, referendums through an executive order may not be legally enforceable, but they can still crumble the whims of the powerful minority that falsely claims to represent the majority. In due course, suitable legal framework for referendums, with sufficient checks and balances can always be put in place.

India needs several economic, social, political and constitutional reforms. After a long wait of 70 years, we at least have a government that has the right intentions on reforms and does not want to wait for a crisis like 1991. For this very reason, and knowing fully well that they can no longer defeat this dispensation electorally, the breaking India forces are now brazenly deploying all kinds of toolkits to destabilize the country. Amidst all of this, the government has only two options – abandon the reform path and become amenable to the adversaries of this nation or take them head on and decimate their ecosystem.

Referendums could just be one of those positive disruptions this country badly needs now.

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