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Lakhimpur is also about India’s democracy – The Tribune

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The Lakhimpur Kheri killings have a dimension apart from their electoral impact. Many foreign observers who have a serious interest in the current state of Indian democracy will seek to place them in the context of social and political developments in the country. These observers would have no doubt carefully gone through Modi’s assertions on Indian democracy in his UNGA address. How do the social fractures that Lakhimpur Kheri reveals square up with Modi’s claims about India’s democracy?
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Updated At: Oct 15, 2021 05:54 AM (IST)
Under scrutiny: Lakhimpur Kheri raises questions about India’s political system and its ability to maintain social peace. PTI
Vivek Katju
Ex-secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

The gruesome killings in Lakhimpur Kheri transfixed the country for a week. The incident is now receding from occupying top media space because of the arrest of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra’s son, Ashish. It will continue to draw attention but its salience will decline. The response of the political class to the murders is linked to next year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly election. It is still early to assess though how much of an impact either the farmers’agitation or this specific event will have on the election result.
The Lakhimpur Kheri killings have a dimension apart from their electoral impact. Many foreign observers who have a serious interest in the current state of Indian democracy will seek to place them in the context of social and political developments in the country. These observers would have no doubt carefully gone through Modi’s assertions on Indian democracy in his September 25 address to the United Nations General Assembly. How do the social fractures that the Lakhimpur Kheri incident reveals square up with Modi’s claims about India’s democracy? How will foreign observers refract Lakhimpur Kheri through the prism of Modi’s speech?
Naturally, it is inappropriate to judge a country’s democratic system on the basis of a single incident or even a series of events during a relatively short period. But there is a tendency to do so if a country is passing through a time when its very ideological fundamentals are being fiercely contested. In such a situation, a single incident assumes salience for it is considered to be part of a pattern. Hence, Modi’s eloquent exposition on Indian democracy may receive a critical examination in many quarters abroad.
Modi emphasised that India was the mother of democracies and its democratic tradition went back thousands of years. He stressed that India’s diversity was the identity of its strong democracy. Referring to his own personal journey, Modi asserted that it was the strength of India’s democratic political system which had enabled a child who used to help his father at a railway station tea stall to have the opportunity to address the UNGA four times as the country’s prime minister. And, based on his experience of 20 years in office, 13 as Gujarat’s chief minister and the last seven as India’s prime minister, Modi articulated the propositions: “Yes, democracy can deliver; yes, democracy has delivered”. To establish that India had taken positive strides in the past seven years, Modi referred to many economic measures taken by the government such as the extension of banking and life and medical insurance facilities to the people and the construction of houses for the poor. He also referred to the digital mapping of villages so that secure and bankable property records would be given to all land owners. The guiding principles of all his actions were based on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s philosophy of antodyaya or ‘where no one is left behind’.
The steps taken by the government and mentioned by Modi constitute significant achievements and even if there are some lapses in these programmes, the prime minister can rightly take satisfaction at their progress. There is no doubt that no other prime minister has paid a detailed attention to schemes for the people’s welfare as he has. However, while foreign observers will no doubt factor all this in positively, they may probe his contentions about India’s historical democratic traditions more closely. While they may applaud Modi’s categorisation of India’s diversity as “an identity” of Indian democracy, they may find it somewhat confusing. For, Modi is an integral part of a movement which is not known for its commitment to Indian diversity.
There are of course social empowerment aspects of some economic measures of the Modi government, but there is undoubtedly great social turbulence both on the surface and below it because of the ruling dispensation’s orientations. These may be because of misperceptions but they are there. They also show the inability of the political class to evolve a comprehensive consensus to deal with economic, social and political issues by reconciling their ideological differences.
Thus, while Modi focussed on democracy’s ability to deliver economic success, the question is if in the present times, it has delivered on social peace? This issue will not escape the attention of either domestic or foreign analysts and it is here that the Lakhimpur Kheri incident assumes significance. Hence, it is the farmers’ agitation and the violence should not be seen only as a law and order matter but as a manifestation of social and political currents flowing through the country.
There is another aspect of democracy’s ability to deliver. At a global level, China is subtly projecting the superiority of its system on account of its economic success and relative social command control of the pandemic. It is thus projecting the superiority of its system over that of democracies. It is overlooking its own role in being responsible for the origin of the virus but the world too is not really holding it to account in this matter. Thus, in this competitive world, it is not only a question of democracy’s ability to deliver, but its capacity to deliver better than the other systems; and while doing so, to succeed in maintaining social peace and political equilibrium.
At the UNGA, Modi said that when India reforms, the world transforms. This is true but it also means that India comes in for far greater scrutiny in all aspects of its functioning—economic, social and political as well as judicial. Thus, the political class and especially the government have to be aware that terrible incidents such as Lakhimpur Kheri are therefore not seen merely as law and order issues or local development but are placed in a much wider context and through them perceptions on the country’s system and its ability to deliver are judged.
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The Tribune, now published from Chandigarh, started publication on February 2, 1881, in Lahore (now in Pakistan). It was started by Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, a public-spirited philanthropist, and is run by a trust comprising four eminent persons as trustees.
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