The Republic Day is the time of the year when feelings of national unity and working together to create a better India are at their highest level among all the citizens of India. This may be just the right time for the Government of India, and more particularly for the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, to reach out to the farmers, minorities and some long-suffering political prisoners with a new message of hope and reconciliation, a gesture which will contribute a lot to the joy, celebrative mood and togetherness of all on the Republic Day, apart from bringing world-level praise for the government.
We the people of India really need unity to create a better India in these times of exceptional difficulties such as climate change and increasing hostility of militarily more powerful China as well as its increasing close military ties with Pakistan. The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of this when he gave the slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikaas. A very good sentiment, a very expressive slogan indeed. But in all honesty he must also admit that in practice this could not be followed to the extent needed. In particular the minorities and most significantly the Muslims felt left out of this slogan.
Another aspect which went against the spirit of this slogan was the excessively repressive attitude towards some dissenters as even elderly persons in very poor health were imprisoned. The United Nations senior human rights representatives have also spoken against this more than once.
Then came the three controversial farm laws, followed by the farmers’ movement and the big increase in the gulf between farmers and the government. What should be even more worrying is that this gulf has increased even more in the areas nearer to the capital.
All these three developments have been distressing and have taken us away from the slogan of sabka saath . There cannot be a better time than the Republic Day to undo these damages and take the nation closer to the spirit of sabka saath. There has been a tradition in our history of governments taking such remedial and relief decisions on celebrative occasions and this is treated as a gesture of magnanimity by our people.
So let us examine some possibilities of what the government can actually announce on the Republic Day, or on the night before the Republic Day.
In the context of the farmers the government can announce in general that it respects the movement of farmers and its concerns and sentiments and will do all it can to accommodate its demands. If possible the government can be more magnanimous and announce, taking the high moral ground, that even though it framed the three farm laws with noble intentions, but keeping in mind the widespread apprehensions and as a special gesture of its respect for the annadata it is repealing the laws.
After all what will the government lose? It has already agreed to suspend the laws for a fairly long time, so why not just repeal and then if necessary enact new laws based on consultations with state governments and farmers?
This may well be the last chance for the government to take the moral high ground on this issue and retain its base among the farmers and such an announcement on the Republic Day will be widely appreciated.
In addition the government can announce, to take forward what is already agreed, that there will be no penal provisions against farmers for straw burning but their constructive cooperation to check this will have to ensured, they will continue to get subsidized electricity as before but their constructive contribution for water conservation has to be ensured and there will be MSP available for a wider range of crops (pulses, millets, oilseeds etc.) but this will be related more in future to ecologically protective farming. All cases against participants in farmers’ movement will be withdrawn.
The government must issue an assurance to Muslim brothers and sisters of equal rights and no discrimination, while also announcing a special scheme or higher allocations for educational support.
There should be an additional announcement that the government will strive to reduce and remove the hardships faced by the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh due to the special conditions prevailing there on the basis of a plan prepared in consultation with their representatives, addressing livelihood, connectivity, educational and related concerns.
In the case of political prisoners, the government can release several of them, if not completely then at least on bail, without security concerns, but if the security agencies feel they have genuine security concerns, then they can impose conditions like reporting to the nearest police station every week or so. Concerns like those of health, old age and disability should also be addressed, as also the statements of UN human rights representatives.
Such an announcement, accompanied by suitable follow-up actions, will bring not just national level but also international acclaim to the Government of India, of a kind that it has not received for a very long time, and improve the future political prospects of the BJP and the reputation of the Sangh Parivar. However the biggest contribution of such an announcement and the implicit policy change will be that this will contribute to reducing the distress of millions of people and bring hope and happiness to them on the Republic Day. The tractor parade seen mainly as a protest action just now will turn into a celebration of Indian democracy. This is advice in good faith—will the Modi government consider?
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met , Azadi Ke Deewanon ki Daastaan ( both on freedom movement) and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times). He has received numerous awards for his writings, including one presented by the President of India).