If there is an art in political apologies, Narendra Modi may be close to accomplishing it. For starters, Modi is known to never apologize. During his long career as four times Chief Minister of Gujarat and two times Prime Minister of India, his apologies for the policies, decisions or actions of his government are seldom, if ever, remembered. The reason? If one works sincerely, without fear or favor, why should one continue to apologize when things do not go as planned, planned or predicted?
Well Named. Otherwise, in India, demanding an apology from the Prime Minister for every little inconvenience, let alone a real blunder, would be almost a career for some. Make Modi Apologize may well be the slogan of this political brand, with key members of the opposition as ringers or cheerleaders.
And Modi-haters’ sizable band would be its sworn and signed members. Day after day, one would then expect the Indian Prime Minister to humiliate himself for wrongs, real or imagined, let alone committed by him or even remotely linked to him.
Modi has always refused to go down this slippery slope. Even when it came to alleged major incidents in his career, such as the Gujarat riots of 2002. Instead, he said during his campaign to become the country’s prime minister in 2014, If he committed a crime, Modi should not be pardoned. What is this system of forgiving people with excuses? There shouldn’t be any excuses. Modi should never be pardoned.
Even what some have called his demo debacle, referring to the sudden and swift November 2016 demonetization campaign, did not elicit an apology from Modi.
Millions of Indians have been put to the test. Moreover, this move failed to eliminate the black economy, not to mention cash, in India. Yet Modi never said forgiveness to the nation. For its unanticipated positive side effects, demonetization arguably outweighs the losses.
The only other time I can remember Modi’s apology with folded hands was during the huge death spike in the second wave of coronavirus earlier this year. Speaking in a nationally broadcast speech, Modi said: I apologize for taking these harsh measures which have caused hardship in your lives, especially the poor. I know some of you would be mad at me as well. But these tough measures were necessary to win this battle.
In the face of so much human suffering and the failure of the best efforts to block or alleviate it, what could the millennial man from India offer?
But when it comes to farm laws, no one would have expected Modis’ apologies, or predicted his timing. As for the latter, there could not be a better occasion than Guru Parv, the birthday of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak. Also known as Kartik Purnima or Deva Deepavali, the festival of light, the day is also revered in Hindu and Jain traditions.
Rumors of compromise were circulating, of course. Captain Amarinder Singhs’ meetings with Modi and Home Secretary Amit Shah have sparked talk of some sort of imminent tinkering. Especially after Singh bailed out a divided congressional party he had led in the Punjab as chief minister, leading him to electoral victory four years ago.
It has also been speculated that there will be an electoral alliance with the BJP for next year’s elections in the border state of India. But for that to happen, a face-saving formula for Singh and BJP, which was unpopular with part of the state due to farm bills, had to be in place.
India economic reforms underway
On the other hand, there is a near consensus that farm laws are in fact good for the farmers and the country. Promised by previous governments, they were long overdue as part of the economic reforms underway in India. But the message was not correct; neither the rich agricultural lobbies of farmer-intermediaries nor the ordinary farmers were taken in confidence. The laws were seen as imposed from above by the Dilli Sarkar, fueling centuries-old memories of imperial oppression and aggression. Indian federalism has also weakened with the perception of state-centered autocracy.
You can’t go against Indian farmers if you want to win elections is a common Indian psephological nostrum. Would Modi prove the exception? Apparently not. It is a part of the population that has survived centuries of foreign invasions, looting, domination and mismanagement.
Even if they need to be helped or raised, it has to be done in a different way. The stubbornness of the bold Indian peasants, who braved the rains and the cold to surround and barricade the capital, could not be ignored.
In addition, no sacrifice or setback was too great considering the electoral outlook in Punjab 2022. Besides Punjab, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections next year were also a deciding factor. The stakes are too high for the BJP. Without UP, where would the BJP be?
The gain for the party and for the nation would outweigh any possible counter-arguments against the withdrawal of agricultural laws. Delhi residents are also said to breathe a sigh of relief when farmers return home, clearing the borders of the national capital region.
Politics demands agreements and compromises. Those seen as inflexible and stubborn, not to mention despotic and tyrannical, are soon shown the door. In the world’s largest democracy, the people are always supreme. They need to be coaxed and persuaded, not belittled or taken for granted.
Modi knows this too well. That is why, in addition to the promised repeal of the agro bill, he also made the rare gesture of apologizing.
But the fruit of the excuse, not just its art or should I say the heart, will only be tested or tasted in the maturity of things. When a strong leader bends, it adds to his stature, not subtracts it. Sowing the seeds of political prudence, Modi hopes to reap a richer harvest by harvest time next February.
It is then that his admirers and detractors can decide whether those rare excuses were an admission of defeat or a plowing and turning of the political ground for a richer yield.
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