From Farm to Fury: BJP Must Use Its Articulate In-House Talent To Check Fraudulent Narratives

Minhaz Merchant

Dec 02, 2020, 03:22 PM | Updated 03:22 PM IST

Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal, and Smriti Irani
Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal, and Smriti Irani
  • The agitation by farmers clearly has political undercurrents. This is an agitation driven by a lethal combination of profit and politics.
  • The larger question though is the BJP’s inability to take proactive measures when faced with crises.
  • Why is it that every time a crisis erupts, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks like a deer caught in the headlights? The farmers’ agitation in Delhi shows how little the BJP has learnt about managing optics.

    In the farmers’ case, the BJP actually has a good case to answer: a majority of agricultural experts have endorsed the three farm laws passed by Parliament. And yet, the Opposition has managed to place the government on the defensive.

    Rahul Gandhi, whose Congress party grandfathered many of the reforms in the new farm laws, was emboldened enough to sneer on Twitter: "The farmers of the country have come to Delhi in the cold against the black agricultural laws, leaving their homes and fields. With whom do you stand in the battle of truth and untruth? The farmer or PM's capitalist friends?”

    Ironically, the Congress manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha election declared: “Congress will repeal the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and make trade in agricultural produce – including exports and inter-state trade – free from all restrictions. We will establish farmers’ markets with adequate infrastructure and support in large villages and small towns to enable the farmer to bring his/her produce and freely market the same.”

    Economists like Ashok Gulati have strongly backed the farm reforms. Chair Professor for agriculture at ICRIER, Gulati wrote: “My reading is that the Congress and many social activists who demand that MSP be made a legal instrument (rather than indicative) actually exhibit deep distrust of the private sector and markets. This line of thinking goes back to about 50 years. In October 1972, Indira Gandhi announced an important agri-marketing policy step – that the wholesale trade in wheat and rice (paddy) will be taken over by the government as traders were being unscrupulous in not giving farmers their due MSP and manipulating prices.”

    When it is pointed out to protesting farmers in Delhi that farmers from no state other than Punjab and Haryana were agitating, the answer is duplicitous: ‘The Maharashtra government nullified the applicability of the farm laws in the state. Why therefore should farmers in Maharashtra agitate?’

    But the Punjab government too has nullified the same farm laws. Why are its farmers protesting? The question is met with silence.

    The agitation by farmers clearly has political undercurrents. Punjab has an exceptionally well developed APMC ecosystem. Middlemen have long skimmed the cream off farmers’ profits. This is an agitation driven by a lethal combination of profit and politics.

    The larger question though is the BJP’s inability to take proactive measures when faced with crises. It was caught napping when anti-CAA protestors took over Shaheen Bagh. The BJP remained mute because it saw the benefits of polarisation from the Shaheen Bagh optics.

    While the Delhi police has chargesheeted several among those who instigated the agitation, the court has also pulled up the Union Home Ministry for not clearing up the protest site – which lay entirely within its powers to do.

    The BJP has an active IT cell. What it needs is an active media cell. The party has in-house talent which languishes. Economists like Bibek Debroy and Sanjeev Sanyal are rarely seen advocating the government’s actions or calling out the Opposition’s untruths. Articulate leaders like Jay Panda, Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari and Smriti Irani are underused.

    The burden of explaining every new policy and every new law falls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. This has diminishing returns. The government must put in place a daily media briefing protocol. China has done this successfully and is always on top of the narrative – however toxic that narrative is on its own behaviour.

    India on the other hand always seems to be playing catch-up with the narrative – even when the facts are on its side.

    The problem is cultural. The BJP’s leadership reflects Bharat, steeped in hierarchy and passivity. The Left-Congress Opposition on the other hand is ruthlessly proactive. It has inherited the swagger of the old colonial. It can lie without batting an eyelid.

    Thus TRS minister KT Rama Rao says nonchalantly that the prime minister promised to create 20 million jobs a year. That is an exaggeration of 100 per cent. And yet, no one in the government has called KTR out.

    The lie of the PM promising to deposit Rs. 15 lakh in every Indian’s account – which would amount to Rs. 2,000 lakh crore or 10 times India’s GDP – has been circulating since 2014 without being effectively countered.

    Modi and Shah must empower their most capable ministers and MPs to speak up more. But a cloud of fear hangs over many lest they incur the wrath of Modi or Shah. You cannot run a government by fear. Instead strike fear into the hearts of the Opposition. It is an art the Congress has learnt over 70 years.

    The BJP completes seven years in office next May. That is no excuse to continue allowing fraudulent narratives to prosper. It should remember that a lie travels half way around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

    Minhaz Merchant is an author and publisher. 

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