Activist’s arrest has brought the farmers’ movement to a critical 
point, writes Ashutosh
Disha Ravi/Facebook

Only a few hours ago, Disha Ravi was a non-entity but now she has become a ‘sensation’, a household name. The social media has gone crazy and everyone has an opinion about her. Some are calling her a ‘terrorist’ while for others, she is a ‘victim’; some are saying she is an excuse to defame the farmers’ movement and for others, she is the lynchpin of an international conspiracy to discredit a majority government. Former Home Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has said, “If a 22-year-old is a threat, then the Indian state must be standing on a very shaky foundation.” Others have opined, “Age is just a number, Ajmal Kasab and Burhan Wani were also 21 years old.”

Disha’s arrest has brought the farmers’ movement to a critical point. This could be a defining moment for the government and also for democratic processes in the country. There is no denying the fact that the farmers’ agitation has shaken the Modi government. When it passed the farm bills in Parliament, it had not anticipated so much resistance from the farmers. It was assumed that the farmers would be unhappy and resort to an intermittent agitation but the fact that their anger would escalate to this extent, was not anticipated even by their bitter critics. The Punjab farmers tried to draw the attention of the Central government through a statewide protest, followed by a ‘rail roko’. This continued for more than a month, after which they decided to march to Delhi. Even then, the government remained oblivious to their emotions.

Farmers' siege

It was only when the march actually got afoot and the crowds surged as it progressed that the government developed cold feet. It resorted to one of the most bizarre methods to stop a protest in independent India. Roads were dug, trenches were excavated and trees felled on the roads so that farmers and their tractors could not move; it was as if the government was trying to stop the march of an enemy army. It was one of the most unimaginative techniques to deal with an agitation. History bears witness--repression is the oxygen that fuels movements. This is exactly what happened to the farmers’ agitation. When they were not allowed to enter Delhi, they sat down at its outskirts, on the roads. The government was now in a fix, besieged by the farmers. Now, it has been more than 80 days. Farmers have weathered the severity of the cold in December and January. No doubt, on January 26, the agitation received a jolt because of the actions of a few who decided to scale the ramparts of Red Fort.

Though many conspiracy theories have been floated, and a few imaginative minds have invented ridiculous arguments to defame farmers, none could be as idiotic as portraying the movement as an international conspiracy to destabilise the government and linking tweets of pop singer Rihanna, climate activist Greta Thunberg as principal actors of the conspiracy. Even the name of a porn star, Mia Khalifa, was included. The toolkit shared by Greta Thunberg, as well as her tweet was showcased as proof to prove the point. And now, a 22-year-old climate activist from Bengaluru has been arrested on the pretext that she is the key creator of the toolkit and the main conspirator.

Conspiracy theory

All through the movement, the ruling party leaders have unleashed a vicious campaign against it, calling it Khalistani. It was also said that the movement had been hijacked by the ultra-Leftists. But it was the toolkit that provided the final excuse to forcefully buttress the argument that the farmers’ movement is not as innocent as it is being portrayed, it has a sinister design with a subtext and that a conspiracy is being hatched to destabilise a duly elected Hindutva government; a more subtle subtext is being circulated that enemies of Hindutva can’t digest the fact that India, after a thousand years since the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan by a Muslim invader, has its first Hindu rule. The idea of Khalistan has an ingrained Pakistan angle and the support of some Canadian Sikhs has strengthened the basic premise of an international conspiracy. The names of Greta Thunberg and Rihanna have added solidity to the optics.

In the Indian context, it is not the first time that the bogey of an international conspiracy has been raised. Whenever Indira Gandhi faced heat from the opposition, she sought to blame the ‘foreign hand’ working overnight to destabilise her government. In the mid-1970s, when she found herself strangled by the mass movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan (popularly called ‘JP’), it was another moment to evoke the ‘foreign hand’ bogey. She charged JP, a stalwart of the Quit India Movement in 1942, of being a CIA agent. She also claimed that another leader of that movement, Morarji Desai, who went on to become her successor after her humiliating defeat in 1977, was a CIA agent.

'Alternate reality'

This was the time when the Cold War was the defining context for every argument. The world was deeply divided between the two camps, communism and capitalism, and both were paranoid about each other, always suspecting the other of conspiring to overthrow the government. But with the demise of communism and the fall of Berlin Wall, that argument was consigned to the dustbin of history. But the global rise of right wing ideology regimes has given a new lease of life to conspiracy theories and the art of creating a ‘fictional world’ has been mastered. Leaders like Trump successfully fictionalise the ‘untruth’ into reality. The power of the ‘alternate reality’ is so overwhelming that almost half the American population believes Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign and are convinced that he won the elections but was denied the presidency by the Left liberals.

The proponents of the ‘alternate reality’ in India are equally adept at spinning a new narrative around the regime, which is being credited with taking India to a new level of ‘super-stardom’ as a country and this, according to them, is not liked by its enemies. According to them, the Left liberals in India are collaborators in this global conspiracy. Labels like ultra-leftists, Khalistani, ‘Tukde Tukde’ and Khan Market gangs are used with a purpose and the narrative of the anti-national is being deliberately created to tarnish the image of the opponents and bolster the aura of the government. Disha Ravi happens to be the soft victim of this larger narrative. The bigger target is the farmers’ movement. It is no coincidence that the Prime Minster calls the movement ‘pure’ but rubbishes its leaders as ‘Andolan-jeevis’ - parasites that feed on agitations for their survival.

But in this debate, a normative question is left unanswered: If the government feels destabilised by ‘We the People’, then how solid and deep is the foundation of our democracy and why is it not to be believed that a government led by an ‘alternate reality’ is standing on a weak wicket and is a real threat to the ideals of Gandhi and Ambedkar?

The writer is author and Editor,

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