Power often gives politicians and bureaucrats swollen heads. That’s how those who reach positions of power pretending to serve the people start talking of breaking the heads of all those who don’t fall in line. Narendra Modi loved portraying himself as ‘Pradhan Sewak’ but has been behaving like an uncompromising emperor, not paying heed to the farmers protesting for nine months now. The bureaucrats must have correctly read the mind of the political bosses and have gone a step ahead, ordering the breaking of the heads of the farmers who dared to breach the barriers.
The state often resorts to violence against protesters, particularly in this regime, but it is careful enough not to explicitly endorse violence against the citizens. The video clip that shows Karnal Sub Divisional Magistrate Ayush Sinha emphatically extracting a commitment from the policemen to break the heads of the farmers is an oddity by any standards.
Though Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar defended the brutal police attack, the Central government and the BJP leadership have avoided doing the same. Many retired IAS and IPS officers have expressed outrage at the SDM’s behaviour though some of his colleagues have defended him because he is “one of the brightest”. It is not open to dispute that students who crack the Civil Services examinations have to be bright. But democracy has different expectations from the civil servants; they are supposed to uphold the rule of law, constitutional principles and humane sensibilities.
Being bright as a student doesn’t guarantee commitment to integrity and ethics as an officer. The system has produced several rogue bureaucrats who choose to violate every principle of the Constitution and democratic spirit to serve the interests of the political masters. There are countless examples of good officers who resisted political pressures and other forms of allurements to uphold the rule of law. There are countless examples of bad officers whose shameless surrender to power and corporate have played havoc with the system and the people.
Asking the police to break the heads of farmers is not acceptable under any circumstances. Though the administration has claimed the visuals of farmers bleeding with serious head injuries came from a different area, the mindset that farmers needed to be dealt with so brutally in itself is undemocratic and uncivil. India didn’t achieve freedom to see policemen breaking farmers’ heads.
If clashes erupt by chance, senior officers are expected to bring down the temperature and bring the warring sides to the negotiating table. While it is tragic that the Haryana chief minister chose to defend the use of brute force instead of condemning the officer’s language, the right course of action would be to hand out exemplary punishment to the SDM, to ensure the bureaucracy doesn’t believe violence is a legitimate and desirable response to protesting citizens.
While it is incumbent upon the protesters to adopt peaceful means, even the administration doesn’t have the licence to crush dissent using brute force. There is a growing concern about the tendency to disallow protest under this regime; people have been prevented from marching on the streets and even offering prayers at Raj Ghat in the national capital in the recent past.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take note of the global cry over India’s diminishing democracy. Some BJP-ruled states have resorted to exceptional methods to crush protests; the Yogi Adityanath government went so far as to invoke the National Security Act against citizens complaining about the oxygen crisis in Uttar Pradesh. The same government put up hoardings to shame eminent citizens who took part in protests against the citizenship law. These are not good signs for the future of democracy.
The government’s handling of the farmers’ movement has been particularly disconcerting. It is not an ordinary chapter in India’s history that over 600 farmers have lost their lives while sitting in protest outside Delhi only to convince the government that the new laws were not acceptable to them. Governments cannot bulldoze their majority will in a democracy and Modi’s obstinacy is shockingly inexplicable. Officers like Ayush Sinha draw inspiration from such an uncompromising attitude of the government which planted nails on the roads and put up barbed wires to prevent the farmers from entering Delhi.
The issues involved are about the future of democracy in India, not merely the conduct of some irresponsible officers. It is for the Prime Minister to rise to the occasion and resolve the crisis in true democratic spirit, sending out a clear message to the bureaucracy that the political class isn’t ready to compromise on democratic principles.