The Decline of Democracy in India

The world’s largest protest was held in India in light of the undemocratic enactment of farming bills that will devastate national poverty levels

By M.K Hubbard

Titled ‘The Farmers Protest’, hundreds of thousands of farmers raised their voices to campaign for the revocation of three bills passed by the Indian Government1. Codified in September 2020, these bills aim to deregulate Indian farming2. Opening the market up to heightened exploitation by large corporations, the bills jeopardize the livelihood of the vast majority of Indian Farmers: slowly but surely devastating the poverty levels nationwide. These bills are not only morally deplorable, but they violate the fundamental principle of democracy enshrined in India’s own constitution3. With the internet cut at major protest sites, the Indian Police are creating a social media blackout: belligerently banning any communication between the protesters and the rest of the world4. This, coupled with the false propaganda venomously spread by state-owned news outlets, has led to the world’s ignorance of the plight of the Indian people. But, the nature and history behind these protests can no longer be neglected: awareness of these undemocratic bills devastating the national poverty levels must not just be recognised, but understood and spread, and we must unanimously protect the people of India without more hesitation.

What Bills were Passed?

Three bills were passed by the Indian Government in September 2020, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime Minister Narendra Modi5. These bills are entitled as follows: ‘The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020’, ‘Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020’, and the ‘Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020’6.

The first and second of these bills abolished the concept of Mandis in Indian Law7. A Mandi guarantees farmers who have been selling crops for ~80 years a MSP: a Minimum Support Price8. This price, originally set by the government, aimed to avoid farmers being taken advantage of by large corporations. Hence, without this minimum, farmers in India will have no bargaining leverage. The third bill makes an amendment in the Essential Commodities Act, making it possible for large companies to ‘hoard’ agricultural products after they purchase them9. This control over the availability of necessary farming products permits large corporations to dictate price, and forcess local farmers to either potentially pay an extortionately high price, or go without and have their livelihood destroyed.

What do these Bills mean for Indian Farmers?

The Indian Government framed the passing of these bills as beneficial to local farmers, promoting the idea that corporations working directly with farmers, unconstrained by government legislation, will open up the agricultural market for private investment, which will yield countless economic gains for Indian Farmers10.

These assertions may be true if the farms in question were large scale factory-style institutions. This commercial mechanisation of the farming process is not an accurate representation of the self-sustaining and labouring Indian Farmers. Around 70% of Farmers in India operate on farms smaller than five acres, with the majority of these being between two and three acres11. There is not a commercial benefit for large corporations to work on such a small scale, as the methods of production and time heavy procedures on smaller farms would not turnover anywhere near the efficiency, conformity, and production levels as large scale farms. Millions of farmers will hence either lose their land as they are unable to support themselves on the pitiful prices offered, the land of which will then be bought up by those same exploitive companies, or, will be forced into predatory contracts by large corporations. Both of these outcomes will force millions of Indian Farmers into an unimaginable scale of poverty12

Numerous studies have shown that moves from state to private ownership does not automatically yield economic gain13. There are no clear benefits of privatisation without the existence of an independent regulator- a regulator dismantled by the enactment of these bills. Without such regulation, these bills will further widen the economic disparity and drive countless more people into economic poverty.

Why do these Bills Violate the Constitutional Principle of Democracy?

Though India became a free nation on August 15th 1947, it officially declared itself a Sovereign and Democratic State through the adoption of the constitution on January 26th 195014. It is the preamble of this constitution which most effectively portrays the nature of these principles, outlining the ‘vision, goals and aspirations’ for India in the principles of: “Justice…Liberty…Equality…Fraternity”15. This preamble unambiguously vests the sovereignty of India in the people, and not the government. It is the people which have the power to change the government, as the laws and policies implemented by the government should be for the benefit of the public. Encapsulated by the very first words of the preamble: “We, the people of India”, there is no denying the dedication of India to the concept of democracy enshrined in its very constitution.

Many laws and policies adopted by the BJP have evidently not upheld this fundamental principle. Developments particularly over the past seven years have created tension over the commitment of the Indian Government to a future as a progressive and liberal democracy, which should be committed to the necessary protection of human rights. Prominent legislation recently passed which contradicts the very foundations of the constitution here include the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, and the proposed National Population Register16. The arrest of countless social activists and journalists who criticised such Acts has led to the breach of fundamental rights, handing down draconian periods of incarceration without the hope of bail.

The introduction of the three farming bills violate not only this principle of democracy, but the Indian Constitution itself. Not only were these bills passed in the middle of a global pandemic, where local engagement on the propositions was nearly impossible to gauge, but all political opposition to the bills were silenced or asked to leave Parliament altogether17. Violating the core principle of democracy: the freedom of political debate, the views of political opposers to these ‘Death Warrants to Farmers’ were not even considered18

Parliament did not get the chance to vote on these bills: this process was refused by Deputy Chairman Harivansh. There was already no possibility for an opposition to debate their views in the Government, but now, not even silent dissent was permitted19. There was simply not a shred of democracy which went into the enactment of these bills. And yet, Deputy Chairman Harivansh summed up the event as a ‘historic day for the BJP and Narendra Modi’, a rather ironic encapsulation of the idea that “history is written by the winners”20.

Why were these Bills Enacted?

Why was the Indian Government committed to enacting these unconstitutional bills? Where was their motivation?

A popular answer to this question lies in the names of two people: Adani and Ambani21.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ran a ~5 billion-dollar election campaign: outspending any politician in recent years22. Where did this money come from? The answer here introduces the characters of billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, Modi’s largest campaign contributors. Previously having made financial moves to monopolise the farming industry in India, these individuals simply needed assistance from Modi to remove several barriers standing in their way. With these barriers removed through the passing of such bills, Ambani and Adani, alongside many other like-minded wealthy corporation leaders, were able to take away even more wealth from some of the poorest communities in India. A simple financial comparison illustrates the magnitude of this exploitation: with the example of Ambani’s wealth increasing 73%, from 18 billion to 80 billion dollars, since the inauguration of Modi23.

The Effects of the Protest so Far

When we are able to understand the nature of these bills, and the true magnitude of their exploitation and jeopardisation of the livelihood of millions of people, we can see why over 250 million workers in India have engaged in nationwide strikes: a number which, put into a local perspective, is almost 4 times the entire population of the UK24. We can understand the reasoning and raw emotion behind the farmers who say “We have to die some day. Rather than dying in hospital taking medicines, it’s better to die a martyr”25. These bills are only the start of what many see as the slippery slope to India’s corporate takeover, maximising private economic gain at the expense of human lives. 

The Indian Police, at orders from the government, have met these peaceful demonstrations with tear gas, batons, and water cannons26. The Police also began the unlawful arrest of innocent protestors and their family members, with an increase in state-sponsored badgeless officers starting widespread riots against the remaining protestors27. Countless reports of sexual assault and torture are still rushing out of prisons from those captured here by the Police28. In addition, enraged right-wing Hindutva mobs were escorted by the police into protest sites, and allowed to attack innocent protestors without legal reprehence29. In cutting the supply of food and fresh water to these protest sites, the Police attempted to not just silence the protestors, but to starve them out completely30.

These protests were not just met with overt demonstrations of brutality and violence. They were also met with internet blackouts at almost all protest sites, an attempt by the Indian Government to create a social media blackout and silence communications between protestors and the outside world31. The Indian Media was voted as the second most corrupt media in the world by the World Economic Forum, and ranked as one of the deadliest places for journalists to work in the world32 33. This idea is seen to be promulgated through the state-owned media outlets creating a series of false propaganda to instill widespread hatred of the farmers in Delhi residents.

What can we do?

Countless protestors have been found dead, and many thousands more are injured each passing day. These devastating evidences of brutality precede the disappearances of more and more protestors. Are these farmers truly asking too much from their government? This is a difficult question to answer in the affirmative, given that what the farmers are asking for is simple: repeal the bills that will ruin their livelihoods. But what can we do to help?
By amplifying the voices of farmers throughout various forms of international protests, the world can increase the pressure on the Indian Government to listen to the farmers instead of continuing to exploit them. The key message of international protests should simply be: the world is watching34. Despite the social media blackouts preventing the release of individual accounts, we need to publicise these protests en masse to raise general awareness of the millions of people protesting in India. We need to broadcast our recognition of the sheer police brutality the government are ordering, which is currently driving countless individuals into a further state of poverty. We need to proclaim the statement that The World is Watching: we are watching the exploitation and terrorisation of millions of farmers, we are watching the sheer decimation of the Indian constitution, and we are watching the principle of democracy simply rot each passing day.

  1. Ellis-Peterson, H. (2021). ‘Farmers’ protests in India: why have new laws caused such anger?’ The Guardian, 12th February 2021. DOA: 11/02/2021 
  2. Javaid, A. (2021). ‘Farm Laws 2020 Explained: Everything you need to know about the new agriculture reforms in India’ Jagran Josh, 6th February 2021. DOA: 11/02/2021 
  3.  National Portal of India (2015). ‘Constitution of India (Full Text)’ DOA: 11/02/2021 
  4. Amnesty International (2021). ‘India: Government must stop crushing farmers’ protests and demonizing dissenters’ Amnesty International, 9th January 2021. DOA: 11/02/2021 
  5. Peenikaparambil, J. (2020). ‘Is India governed by the principles and norms laid down in the Constitution of India?’ The Leaflet, 29th November 2020. DOA: 11/02/2021 
  6.  Damodaran, H. (2021). ‘Explained: The concerns of farmers, and what Centre can negotiate to end protests’ The Indian Express, 30th January. DOA: 11/02/2021
  7. Almeida, A. (2020). ‘Farm Bill 2020 Explained – Are Farmers Winning or Losing?’ Trade Brains, 30th September 2021. DOA: 11/02/2021 
  8.   BBC News (2020). ‘Farm Bills: Are India’s new reforms a ‘death warrant’ for farmers?’ BBC News, 23rd September 2021. DOA: 11/02/2021
  9. Farm Bills: Are India’s new reforms a ‘death warrant’ for farmers?’ ibid 
  10.  Sharma, N. ‘Why Indian farmers believe new laws are rigged to favour India’s richest man’ Quartz India, 8th December 2020. DOA: 11/02/2021
  11. IANS. (2015). ‘Nearly 70 percent of Indian farms are very small, census shows’ Business Insider, 9th December 2015. DOA: 11/02/2021 
  12. ‘Farm Bills: Are India’s new reforms a ‘death warrant’ for farmers?’ ibid 
  13.  Estrin, S. (2002) ‘Effects of Privatization and Ownership in Transition Economies’ Journal of Economic Literature (47). DOA: 12/02/2021 
  14. Know India. ‘Republic of India’ DOA: 12/02/2021 
  15.  ‘Constitution of India (Full Text)’ ibid
  16.  ‘Is India governed by the principles and norms laid down in the Constitution of India?’ ibid 
  17.  India Today, 20th September 2020. ‘Voting Underway In Rajya Sabha Through Voice Vote Over Farm Bills Amid Opposition’s Sloganeering’ . Youtube <https://www.youtube.com/watch?ab_channel=IndiaToday&v=J3XjkkK-t34> DOA: 12/02/2021 
  18. The Electoral Knowledge Network. ‘Freedom of Political Debate’. DOA: 12/02/2021 
  19.   ‘Voting Underway In Rajya Sabha Through Voice Vote Over Farm Bills Amid Opposition’s Sloganeering’ ibid
  20.  Goldberg, J. (2020). ‘Column: Is William Barr right that history is written by winners?’ Los Angeles Times, 12th May 2020.DOA: 12/02/2021 
  21. ‘Why Indian farmers believe new laws are rigged to favour India’s richest man’ ibid 
  22.  @coolspiritualguy “Posts” (2020). [Instagram Profile]. <https://www.instagram.com/coolspiritualguy/> DOA: 12/02/2021 
  23. Sultana, N. (2020). ‘73% spike in wealth keeps Ambani on top of rich list’ Mint, 30th September 2021. DOA: 12/02/2021 
  24. IndustriALL (2018). ‘Over 250 million workers join national strike in India’ IndustriALL Union. DOA: 12/02/2021 
  25.  Lazarus, N. (2021). ‘’We will not go back – we have to die some day’: India’s protesting farmers remain resolute’ Sky News, 6th February 2021. DOA: 12/02/2021 
  26.  Pandey, G. (2020). ‘India farmers: The viral image that defines a protest’ BBC News, 2nd December 2020. DOA: 212/02/2021 
  27.  ‘India: Government must stop crushing farmers’ protests and demonizing dissenters’ ibid
  28.  @coolspiritualguy “Posts” ibid 
  29.  Misra, S. Taskin, B. (2021). ‘Clashes break out at farmers’ protest site at Singhu, SHO attacked with sword’ The Print, 29th January 2021. DPA: 12/02/2021
  30.  Hollingsworth, J. Mitra, E. (2021) ‘India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police’ CNN, 3rd February 2021. DOA: 12/02/2021 
  31. ‘India: Government must stop crushing farmers’ protests and demonizing dissenters’ ibid 
  32.  Nithyanandatruth (2018), ‘World Economic Forum reports Indian media as most corrupt‘ Nithyanandatruth. DOA: 12/02/2021
  33. Chauhan, C. (2019). ‘India ‘3rd most dangerous’ nation for journalists after Iraq and Syria’ Hindustan Times, 4th November 2021. DOA: 12/02/2021 
  34.  @coolspiritualguy “Posts” ibid