Had it not been for the recalcitrance of the landowners protesting against the new Agri Laws, India would have entered Republic Day with a sense of optimism, having contained the Covid-19 spread and begun its vaccination programme. The planned tractor rally has cast a shadow on the RD Parade, which has already been curtailed owing to pandemic related restrictions. The focus of the general public has shifted away from the celebrations to concerns about the democratic structure of the Indian Republic. It is true that the protests have been peaceful thus far, but they have caused enormous harm to the economy. Even the peaceable nature of the movement has more to do with the firman from their great patron, PM Justin Trudeau of Canada, who has supported the right to hold ‘peaceful’ protests. Considering that Canada is the Promised Land for much of the unemployed in particularly Punjab, obedience proves their loyalty and worthiness to immigrate!
This situation highlights the challenges posed to the traditional concept of the nation-state. The world may no longer be economically connected as it was in pre-Trump times, but the interflow of information, ideas and beliefs has expanded manifold. People are being influenced from afar by political, religious and economic interests in the most subtle ways. The polarisation in the United States, for instance, is largely attributed by experts to the power of fake news, downright lies and Trumpian fantasy. Similar forces are fighting for mind-space in the rest of the world. This threatens democratically open societies, while strengthening the closed and totalitarian ones. India and China are not just facing off on the Indo-Tibetan Border; it is also a battle of perceptions.
In many ways, India will have to face many of these challenges alone – in that way the lack of a Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade is quite symbolic. The Atmanirbhar call of the Prime Minister has to do not just with becoming economically autonomous, but also with ideological freedom. The tendency of many Indians to see themselves through the eyes of others, not having the confidence to rely on their own judgement, has betrayed the cause of freedom. The resilience displayed by the Indian Cricket Team in Australia, for instance, came as a surprise to many. Some were quick to remind us in lengthy Op-Eds that this quality does not extend to other elements of Indian existence. It is one thing to fear defeat, but it is quite another thing to be afraid of victory. That is a malaise afflicting many, including the ‘farmers’ who are afraid to adopt new practices that could lead them to freedom from government handouts and subsidies. Success has come to mean a shift into more lucrative subservience! It is time to shed this mindset if the Republic is to reach its promised greatness!