Farm laws’ repeal: In India, democracy isn’t dead

Farmers gesture as they block a national highway during a protest against farm bills passed by India’s parliament, in Shambhu in the northern state of Punjab, India, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Friday’s announcement on repealing the new farm laws in India affirms how no government, irrespective of the strength of its mandate, can afford to disregard voices of people emerging from the ground.

Vidya Venkat

[First published in The Wire on November 20, 2021.]

Narendra Modi’s announcement on Friday repealing the three new farm laws is proof that democracy is still alive and kicking in India. The laws had resulted in widespread protests from farmers congregating on the borders of the national capital since August 2020. The decision, which comes a few months before the state assembly elections due in the ‘grain bowl’ state of Punjab and the politically significant Uttar Pradesh, is proof that sustained public pressure on policy issues cannot be ignored by any government notwithstanding its might in Parliament.

Commentators on Indian politics have expressed fears that the country’s democratic credentials are slowly eroding ever since the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party formed a majority government and returned with a stronger mandate in 2019. The fear is not misplaced as the government has demonstrated high-handed tactics in its handling  of the farmer protests and other such acts critical of the government, to suppress dissent. The framing of sedition charges against journalists reporting the farmer’s protests on January 26 via social media, on a day when, ironically, the nation was celebrating its founding as a democratic republic was perhaps a particularly low point during the struggle. Hundreds of farmers also lost their lives while braving rough conditions.

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Unicorn and the stars

Artwork by my nephew Aniruddha (7)

What is the distance between the earth and the stars?”

My five-year-old nephew asks, wide-eyed.

The rocking horse in his bedtime story book

Summons a unicorn and goes wherever it wishes.

I want to ride on that horse and get to the stars.

I want to ask amma why she went away so far…

[When my sister passed away in February, I told my nephews that she is a star now.]

खाली घर

बचपन में, घर के पास जो खाली घर था,
वहाँ मैं और मेरी दीदी, ऊंची आवाज़ में,
अपने नाम को पुकार कर उसकी गूँज सुना करते थे।
आज सालों बाद खाली घर में अपने नाम के बजाय
किसी दूसरे के नाम को गूँजता सुन कर
ये ख्याल आया : बचपन और जवानी में यही फर्क़ है
कि उम्र के साथ केवल यादें रह जाती हैं…

© Vidya Venkat


वो कोई तंगदिल ही होगा,
जिसने प्यार के बदले प्यार ना दिया।
अब हम गिला करें भी तो किस से,
जब मुझे ठुकराने के चक्कर में
वो खुद बर्बाद हुआ…

© Vidya Venkat