Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik’s stand has not softened even after the government withdrew three controversial agri-laws. Speaking at a social function in Haryana’s Charkhi Dadri town on January 2, he said that when he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the question of farmers’ agitation and raised the issue of the death of 500 farmers, the PM’s attitude was arrogant. He also said that their meeting ended in an argument. In other words, Malik conveyed the message that he went to the extent of even risking a quarrel with the arrogant Prime Minister on the question of farmers. He further stated that the PM asked him to meet Home Minister Amit Shah who pacified him by saying that the PM has gone mad!
Satya Pal Malik’s anti-government attitude on the issue of the farmers agitation has been highly appreciated among the agitating farmers and supporters. If any leader, more so, at the governor level, sitting in power under the ruling BJP government opposes any decision or attitude of the government and dares to question even at the slightest point, then it should be applauded for the courage. Satya Pal Malik has categorically opposed the government’s decision to implement agricultural laws and its malicious attitude towards the agitation from the very beginning.
At a time when Modi-Shah-Bhagwat’s BJP is keeping a tight watch on the freedom of expression in the country, the condition of democracy within the BJP can be well understood. The situation is such that even the allied parties/leaders of BJP involved in the government do not have the courage to speak against any decision of the government. Shiromani Akali Dal, a constituent of NDA, due to electoral concerns, raised its voice of protest only when a strong movement against agri-laws arose in Punjab. Then it had to look for a way out of the government and the coalition. A chanting refrain goes on day and night in the mainstream and social media that Narendra Modi is beyond any criticism. In such an environment, Satyapal Malik’s persistent antagonistic attitude against the government including Narendra Modi should be appreciated. But with a caveat. He, being a constitutional authority, should have talked about other constitutional authorities such as the PM and the HM in a sober and decent language.
However, while paying him his due, it also needs to be kept in mind that after the Muzaffar Nagar riots, the BJP had made unprecedented electoral gains in western Uttar Pradesh. In reward for that achievement, and to keep it going, the BJP had made a deliberate venture of appeasement of the non-Muslim peasant castes of the region. The appointment of Satya Pal Malik as Governor was also part of the same venture. If the BJP loses its earnings in western Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming assembly elections due to the farmers’ agitation, it is likely that it will not tolerate even a day’s opposition by Satyapal Malik. However, in such a situation, the path for Satyapal Malik to remain in the corridors of power may remain fairly open. After the defeat of the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh, the SP-RLD could send him to the Rajya Sabha when the opportunity arises.
A special tendency is seen among socialists. Any socialist leader, involved with the BJP, Congress or any other party’s government, sometimes talks about public interest even if it is in a suppressed tone. Then the socialists attribute his behavior to his socialist past and shower him with praise. Satya Pal Malik is also called a former-socialist. His support for the peasant movement and his anti-government stance is applauded by some socialists by linking it to his past. But that is only one minor part of the story. If anything in Satyapal Malik’s protest was actually related to his socialist inheritance, then he would have registered at least some protest against the indiscriminate corporatisation-privatization being carried out by this government. Needless to say, that all the labor and agricultural laws made by this government are in accordance with its policy of corporatization-privatization of every sector. The government has withdrawn the agri-laws under electoral pressure but it has not changed its policy. If the government and its neo-liberal policies continue to remain, then in all probability, the agri-laws will sooner or later be implemented, maybe in another, altered form.
PS: The critical statement of Satyapal Malik about the Prime Minister and the Home Minister on the contentious issue of agri-laws placed him on top of the first page of Indian Express of 3 January 2022. The very next day he back tracked from his statement stating that it had been “misconstrued”. He lauded the PM and also stated that “Shah did not make any comment on the Prime Minister”. This news dragged him to page 5 of the newspaper. By his flip Satyapal Malik himself has replied to those socialists who were praising him for a socialist attitude.
Author taught Hindi at Delhi University