President’s Blog

The phrase ‘Jai Kisan’ has become not only a hackneyed phrase but one attracting several interpretations.

Source: The Hindu, Farmers protest at the Modinagar railway station in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh on February 18, 2021.   | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

The phrase ‘Jai Kisan’ has become not only a hackneyed phrase but one attracting several interpretations. The government has been giving its hard-nosed interpretation that it means the whittling down of the Minimum Support price mechanism and the inevitable closure of the public distribution system, already emaciated by reduction in investments and the closure of AMPC mandis. For the farmers, peering over the barbed wires and barricades into the capital, however, the slogan means security and protection from the state so that they can live a decent life and ensure that their children never face the hardships and indebtedness that they had to face throughout their life. A part of the city bred population has taken the government’s logic on imposing the farm bills as a divine commandment, to be repeated verbatim, but never questioned.

It will be a truism to say that the kisans are the backbone of the country, not only providing food for the population but also jawans for the defence of the country. But in these strange times, truisms need repeating. If the census had been completed this year, it would have pointed out that about 65% of India’s population still lives in the countryside, dependent on agriculture. This would mean a population of at least 90 crores, even after taking for granted that the census would have undercounted us again by a few crores. And, according to the 70th Round of the National Sample Survey, that somehow manages to produce embarrassing figures for the government most, if not all the time, the all-India average income of a farming family is a paltry Rs 6,426 — not even as decent as a single restaurant bill for an upper middle-class family enjoying a weekend .

Governments can come and go, farm bills can be passed, amended and withdrawn, nothing is immutable or chiselled in stone. But there has been something immutable in our long history as one of the surviving members of the most ancient of civilisations, and that is rajadharma. For a government, led by a party which never tires talking about India’s rich heritage, perhaps historical references drawn from this rich heritage may attract a faint ear.

True, there has been no archetypal rajadharma that has stood the test of time and not all smritis, nitis and shastras on statecraft have a consistent interpretation. But the way a Kautilya or a Thiruvalluvar would have advised the government on the approach that a ruler should take towards farmers today is worth pondering about. India could be hurtling towards a $5 trillion economy, if pronouncements from the Cabinet pulpit are to be believed. But the government cannot deny that the number of zeroes after the number five doesn’t ring any bell for the vast majority of the Indian people.

In his Shukraniti, Shukracharya likens the state to a tree of which the king is the root and the counsellors are the main branches, the commanders are the lesser branches, the armies are blossoms and flowers, the people are the fruits and the land is the seed. The metaphor serves the point that the land, king, the counsellors and the army have to work to make people prosper.

The same idea has been echoed by Kautilya in his famous, but best ignored, verse in the Arthashastra,

‘In the happiness of his (king’s) subjects lies the king’s happiness,
in their welfare, his welfare.

He shall not consider as good only that which pleases him
but treat as beneficial to him whatever pleases his subjects’. {1.19.34}

For Kautilya, the very raison d’etre of the state was to promote the economic welfare of the people and fully regulate its economic life. Let us not mistake this for the slogan of ‘minimum government -maximum governance’ often bandied about by governments to cover up their abrogation of major responsibilities to the population. The Arthashastra is unequivocal that the state has to ensure that farmers are protected from natural and man-made calamities, that taxes are just and the farmers are not left to the vagaries of the market.

According to that great historian Nilakanta Sastri, the verses in the Thirukkural go one step further. They are ‘far more clear-cut in their analysis of the physical basis of the life of the state than the corresponding statements in the Arthasastras known to us’. The last verse of the ten verses in which Thiruvalluvar, the didactic author, deals with the essentials of nadu (nation), says it all.

‘Though blest with all these varied gifts’ increase,
A land gains nought that is not with its king at peace’. {verse 740}

The versatile poet puts across the importance of peasants to the economy, with a dramatic punch, when he says that

‘They live who live to plough and eat

The rest behind them bow and eat’. {verse 1033}

One can dismiss this as relevant to only a predominantly agricultural society, in which the poet lived. But the question is: is it not relevant to a country in which two-thirds of the population is dependent on agriculture today? Does the dwindling share of agriculture in the nation’s economy undermine the voices of farmers, or does it point to the ticking time bomb of a devastated countryside forced to shoulder the burden of supporting a billion mouths?

My larger and more serious point is that, with the elected representatives of the people reduced to mere spectators in Parliament, the Judiciary going through the motions of justifying the setting up a Committee which is supposed to deliver an impartial verdict, it is clear as crystal that all decision-making authority, the nation’s sovereignty, lies in the clutches of a few individuals in the Cabinet.

Thiruvalluvar may have hit the nail on its head some 2000 years back when he declared:

‘Hard of access, the unjust king

He shall himself his ruin bring’. {verse 548}

But historical amnesia has been a fellow traveller of our rulers. Those who are adept at raking the dust of the past are equally adept at forgetting the lessons of the past when dissatisfaction of the subjects brought empires crumbling down, only to leave the country open to external machinations and aggression. Let us not get added to the list of those nations which have forgotten the price they have paid in the past for their unity.

By admin