That Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant’s “too much of a democracy” remark would attract a lot of flak was known at the very time the news story reporting it appeared. For Narendra Modi’s detractors love to slam his appointees. Later, Kant did say that he never meant that he disliked democracy, or too much of it, but the damage was done.
The episode has highlighted a simple fact: votaries of democaracy are infact undermining it. The ongoing farmers’ agitation has underlined the fact the real problem is not too much but too little of democracy, as we shall see.
As for the instant episode, Kant could have chosen better words to highlight the roadblocks in the path of reforms. At an online event, ‘The Road to Atmanirbhar Bharat,’ organised by Swarajya magazine on Tuesday, he said, “So tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context, we are too much of a democracy. For the first time, the government has had the courage and the determination to carry out very hard-headed reforms across sectors—mining, coal, labour, agriculture. These are very, very difficult reforms… You needed a huge amount of political determination and administrative will to carry out these reforms which are being done.”
And when, with courage and determination, the government decides to implement a set of laws, duly passed by Parliament, a group of farmers in a part of India violently protest against the laws, paralyse the national capital, throw daily life out of gear in the areas affected, and hurt the regional economy. By no stretch of imagination, such disruption can be called normal in a democracy.
Democracy is not just about electing a government every five years; it is a way of life, involving all citizens. It is predicated upon the principle best enunciated in the American motto of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. That is, every individual has the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
So, if the farmers have the inalienable right to protest against the new farm laws, the people living in and around Delhi also have the inalienable rights to live life as they want to and earn a livelihood by moving around.
Farmers have their rights, so do have truckers, cab drivers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, hawkers, etc. There is no moral justification in privileging one group’s rights over others’ rights. A farmer is as much a citizen as a driver or plumber is. Therefore, quite apart from the pointlessness of the farmers’ agitation there is the issue of agitators’ infringement upon the rights of others. This is a critical point that the supporters of farmers’ stir don’t notice, or choose not to notice.
From film and sport stars to wannabe celebrities to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, everybody sees the stir as an opportunity for virtue-signaling —just as wearing masks and expressing concern for environment is.
Throwing caution and diplomatic propriety to the winds, Trudeau said at the virtual interaction to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, “Let me remind you that Canada will always be there to defend the right to peaceful protest. We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we have reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”
Expectedly, New Delhi expressed its displeasure over the unwarranted interference in India’s internal affairs. Trudeau, however, remained relentless, responding to India’s criticism with: “Canada will always stand for the rights of peaceful protests anywhere in the world and we are pleased to see moves towards de-escalation and dialogue.”
Others too support farmers’ right to ‘peaceful protest’. There is nothing exceptional about it: every modern person will support that, especially in a democracy. But they would support ‘peaceful protest’ — not coercion, which the farmers’ representatives have adopted. And it is indeed coercion that millions of people in the national capital region have been subjected to. And that is not too much of democracy but too little of it.