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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Happy New Year

Hope for 2022 draws from unmasked spirit of farmers and women: People will speak, powerful will have to listen

By: Editorial |
Updated: January 1, 2022 9:31:04 am
Yet, amid the challenges and the continuing pandemic, is a hope for 2022 that draws from the unmasked spirit of the farmers and the women: The people will speak and the powerful will be compelled to listen.

As the old year was giving way to the new, in this age of the image, two videos seemed to tell a story. In the first, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, giving an election speech in Moradabad in poll-bound UP, exhorts his audience to vote for his party’s “nizam (ruling order)”, which he says, is different from that of its rival. He spells out the difference: In the SP’s nizam, N is for Nasimuddin, I for Imran Masood… In other words, for all the BJP’s publicity and claims on governance, its senior leader and minister seems to be once again framing the same bare and impoverished choice in UP 2022 — us versus them, one faith versus another. The sense that the BJP could be preparing to run a joyless, leaden campaign, weighed down by resentments, is a dispiriting thing to carry into the new year. Now, cut to the second video. Women in a house in Tumakuru, the walls festooned with balloons, are eloquently and forcefully telling off some men, Hindutva vigilantes, who were apparently trying to disrupt their Christmas celebrations. You don’t need to know the language the women speak to understand what they say. The brave women of Tumakuru who refused to be bullied, not the politician in the polarising campaign, is the apt freeze-frame on which to end the year that saw farmers speak back to their government.

Last year, the farmers agitated and won. In November 2020, protesting farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana but also from elsewhere, had reached Delhi’s borders to camp in the open against the Centre’s three farm laws, pushed through amid a pandemic. In November 2021, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally took to television to announce his government’s decision to repeal the laws, it had become clear that the issue was not their merit — they were reformist in intent, and by all accounts and indices, Punjab’s agriculture is crying out for change. The point was that the farmers had dug in their heels and the government could not go on ignoring their insecurities and concerns. Over more than a year, the farmers showed the power of peaceful resistance — the movement was scarred by the violence on January 26 but for the most part, it remained patient and unswerving. Its journey and its denouement leave democracy enriched.

Of course, 2021 was also the year of other stories. The heartrending loss suffered by so many, seemingly abandoned by a rudderless government and unprepared administration, in that second deadly surge of Covid in April-May. And, by year-end, the formidable and impressive success of the vaccination programme, which now hopefully helps India brace for a possible third wave of the mutated virus with the largest population of vaccinated people in the world. The many snapshots of institutional norms under challenge, the weaponising of laws against free speech, and the Opposition’s continuing inability to hold up its end of the debate. Yet, amid the challenges and the continuing pandemic, is a hope for 2022 that draws from the unmasked spirit of the farmers and the women: The people will speak and the powerful will be compelled to listen. Happy New Year.

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