A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handy man with a sense of humus. E.B. White.
The government has finally decided to repeal the contentious farm laws. After close to a year of backing and forthing, accompanied by plenty of bickering and frothing at the mouth, threats, dharnas, morchas and eyeball to eyeball confrontations, it would appear that the BJP government has been the first to blink. Truth to tell, the only one to blink after what seemed an interminably long stare down. The opposition parties, predictably, are already playing this up as a huge loss of face, this volte face, for the ruling party. The latter are doubtless devising their own strategies and tactics to put a brave and noble face on this imbroglio. They may have had to eat humble roti, but they are not showing it. There are those who firmly believe that our Prime Minister and his aides have something up their sleeves, which will be unleashed on an unsuspecting citizenry at some unspecified future date. Debates will rage over the next few weeks on our television screens, and with important state elections just a few months away, the timing of this announcement will also be viewed with skepticism by the naysayers. In fact, the future tense is redundant. It’s already happening, with knobs on. That’s politics, baby!
Your chronicler was taking his evening constitutional the other day, when he overheard an animated conversation between two very senior citizens sitting on a park bench. No prizes for guessing, but they were having a chinwag about this very subject viz., the PM’s repealing of the farm laws. As I was not keen to be spotted eavesdropping, I pretended to be deeply involved in some standing exercises. You know, hip rotation, toe touching and a spot of yogic breathing as well. This was somewhat embarrassing because I have never been able to reach within a foot of my toes, but I decided to soldier on, as the conversation held me in thrall. Clearly, one of the two elders was deeply in simpatico with the farm lobby, while the other, possibly a right-wing retired journalist, took a more cynical view of what he saw as little more than brazen blackmail by some sections of the farming community. They spoke pretty loudly, both of them probably quite hard of hearing. This suited me fine as I could hear every word as clear as a bell.
‘I say Bhatia, you must be celebrating. You have been cribbing about what you call the draconian farm laws. You’ve got your way now. You saw the PM on television, did you not? So, when are you throwing a party?’
‘I daresay you speak figuratively, Chandru. I cannot remember ever throwing a party. Thrown many a fit, yes. In any case, I am not sure what there is to celebrate. The farmers might have won an important round, but you can never count the Prime Minister out. He must be furiously working on Plan B. That is a nagging worry.’
‘I thought you were not overly fond of the ruling party, and that’s putting it mildly. Yet you seem to have a grudging admiration for our admirable Modiji. Do I detect a change, Bhatia?’
‘You detect no such thing, my friend. That was not admiration. That was more a deep concern, knowing the Prime Minister’s capacity and muscle power to hit back when and where you least expect it. By the way, I am not a very close follower of present-day political trends and catch phrases, but what is this 56-inch jibe that the young pretender, Rahul Gandhi keeps talking about all the time?’
‘Dear me Bhatia, you are a bit out of step, aren’t you? That is actually a reference to the PM’s muscle power you just referred to. It is a metaphor, expressed with much irony and sarcasm, not that Rahul Gandhi will recognize irony if you handed it to him on a platter. The not-all-that-young Gandhi scion has also hectored the PM mockingly and inelegantly; chowkidar chor hai being his favourite pot shot.’
‘I have heard that one as well, Chandru, but it all seems to be so much water off a duck’s back. The PM, much to his critics’ annoyance, never seems to react. He simply gets on a plane and pushes off to some international conference where Boris Johnson calls him “one sun, one moon, one earth, the one and only Narendra.” Or words to that effect. That really gets my goat, this wallowing in foreign leaders’ appreciation, when back home we are trying to give him hell.’
‘To get back to the farm laws retraction Bhatia, you can never keep the opposition happy. You get my drift? I mean, this past year they were all yelling and screaming “repeal, repeal” but no sooner has the government done precisely that than they start shouting that this is just an election stunt, what with many important state elections just round the corner. You just can’t please some people. In fact, the word jhumla is frequently heard on our television screens.’
‘When you are involved in a slanging match, all bets are off. Anything goes. Look, I think many of these barbs are quite justified. The PM’s sleight of hand is now legendary. Now you see him, now you don’t. A consummate politician. And he has all these heavyweights like Shah and Nadda to face the flak while he himself is traipsing around the globe. And you know what, the thing that really bugs me is that he invariably turns it all round to his benefit. My fear is this might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the farmers.’
‘Come, come Bhatia, don’t lose heart. Pyrrhic victory, indeed! Good phraseology but stuff and nonsense. There’s still the MSP issue to be sorted out. That Tikait chap says he won’t remove his soup kitchens from the Delhi border till the government nails the MSP issue. If I can paraphrase that old Beatles hit, our government has a tough Tikait to ride.’
‘Nice one, Chandru. Tikait to ride, ha ha! Where do you dredge up these things from? Yes, I keep reading and hearing about this MSP affair, but what exactly is it and why is everybody getting into a right royal twist over it? Why don’t you explain it to me in plain English, Chandru, you being a respected journalist and all?’
‘Was, Bhatia, was. Retired now. And by the way, journalists are never respected. Not anywhere in the world. As a clan collectively, journalists are a byword and a hissing, as I have heard some of my friendly hacks from Fleet Street describe us. One politician even called journalism the second oldest profession in the world!’
‘Good grief. I will not ask you what the oldest profession is, but you are digressing. I wanted to know what exactly MSP stood for and why it has become such a sticking point between the farmers and the government?’
‘I digressed because I am myself quite clueless about this MSP affair. Beyond the fact that it is an acronym for Minimum Support Price, why this Tikait gawdelpus and his cohorts are insisting that MSP be guaranteed under law is a closed book to me. Something to do with middlemen, they tell me. You know what Bhatia, I think there is more to this than meets the eye.’
‘And what exactly does that mean, Chandru? You speak in riddles.’
‘It means neither of us has the foggiest what the palaver over the farm laws is all about. It’s just something for retired people like us to sit on a park bench and gas away till the cows come home. Which reminds me, the wife will be getting restless. It’s time to make tracks.’
‘I hate conversations that are left open-ended like this. It’s like reading an Agatha Christie novel and finding that some sadist has torn out the last page which would have revealed the murderer’s identity. Listen Chandru, will you do some ferreting around, like a good journalist, and let’s meet again tomorrow and you can tell me all about this wretched MSP in words of less that four syllables. All right? Is that a deal?’
‘All I can say Bhatia, like a good journalist, is ‘watch this space.’
‘Oh, and one last thing Chandru. This stand-up upstart Vir Das everyone is raving about. Is he for or against India?’
‘Good question, Bhatia old top. They were raving about him at the Kennedy Centre in New York. Not sure back home. I think he is hedging his bets. He speaks of “Two Indias.” He is for one and against the other. That clear?’
‘Clear as mud.’
As the two octogenarians parted company, I too completed my pretend exercise routine and headed homewards. I hate to have to say it, but I am now a bona fide member of that club of millions in our country who has not the faintest what the farm laws and its many twists and turns are all about, but at least I was privy to a most entertaining, if confused, exchange of ideas by two of our senior citizens, even if I had to remain incognito. As the fellow said in the Paul Newman classic, Cool Hand Luke, ‘What we have here is failure to communicate.’