September 27, 2023


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‘Re-formed’ semantics of politics

That whereof we cannot talk, thereof we must continue being silent. — Ludwig Wittgenstein

If Alice’s Humpty Dumpty had emerged from at the rear of the seeking-glass and were witness to the Indian farmers’ agitation which has practically introduced the country to a standstill and established waves of stormy protest as significantly afield as the British isles, the US, Australia, and Canada, he’d be in a position to discover the one verbal spark that would seem to have ignited the conflagration.

The farmers are up in arms – or rather, up in ploughshares – against the BJP-led government’s three proposed improvements in India’s agri regulations which date back again to the colonial period.

The major sticking point is the federal government assured Bare minimum Guidance Selling price (MSP) for foodstuff grains which gives a basic safety net for farmers.

The government’s proposal to complement the condition-run mandis with a two-tier procedure by which farmers can choose for any customer of their decision or go on offering their produce in the mandis has elevated apprehension amongst agriculturists, despite assurances to the contrary, that this could be a initially action in doing absent with the MSP. The confrontation is just one involving cost-free sector selection and a dirigiste economic condition-sponsored composition. And the a single term which kindled the flashfire of turbulent dissent is ‘reforms’, a rubric under which the legislation has been clubbed.

The dictionary definition of ‘reform’ is to adjust something, a law or a method, to make it improved for the general fantastic.

Even so, in India’s one-phase-ahead-1-stage-sideways narrative from a command economic climate to liberalisation, ‘reform’ has become a bone of competition – or a bane of conflict – in between status quoists, or point out quoists, and advocates of modify.

Exercise routines such as the unannounced right away demonetisation and the precipitate introduction of the GST, equally billed as watershed reforms by the govt, and vigorously assailed by critics, have invested the expression with irreconcilably opposite meanings.

To opponents, reforms are a weasel phrase for social and economic Darwinism in which the solid prosper at the price of the weak, although its proponent’s tom-tom it as a shibboleth, a password which will free of charge us from the shackles of the prohibitory protocols of the past. The ‘reformation’, or ‘re-formation’ of ‘reforms’ is just 1 occasion of the manipulation, or misappropriation, of semantics in the political lexicon, not just in India but all over the place.

The vintage example of these kinds of lingual somersaulting is Orwell’s Newspeak, derived from Doublethink, in which ideological oxymorons hijack the language of public discourse. In the Orwellian dystopia of Oceania in which the novel 1984 is established, citizens maintain mass rallies in which they chant the paradoxical mantras of ‘War is Peace! Independence is slavery! Ignorance is Energy!’

India’s present-day area of public proclamations resounds with echoes of Orwellian Newspeak. The 1960s ‘Flower Power’ unifying anthem of ‘Make really like, not war’ directed at the US army intervention in Vietnam, finds a mocking travesty in the deeply divisive catechism of ‘love jihad’, an omnibus amalgam that equates war with like and would make them one particular.

In the same way, dissidence, the heartbeat of any democracy worth the title, gets to be a synonym for anti-nationalism, subversion, and sedition, a want to overthrow the point out.

The state itself, bedrocked on the permanency of interlocking nonetheless independent Constitutional institutions, is etymologically transfigured to mean the elected – and by definition transient of tenure – the authorities of the working day, which by this verbal legerdemain assumes an overriding authority far exceeding its remit. Ideological rifts are widened instead of getting bridged when the language of negotiation loses common indicating. Conversation, with the hope it holds of eventual consensus, falls sufferer to confrontation in a literal war of words and phrases in which the combatants utilize a frequent language composed of a conflicting vocabulary, be it ‘reform’ which can be taken to imply ‘progress’ or ‘persecution’, or ‘secular’ invariably hyphenated with ‘pseudo’, and ‘migrant’ with ‘illegal’.

The consequence is a semantic solipsism only also familiar to Orwell. Or to Humpty Dumpty.



Sights expressed over are the author’s personal.

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