By risking a strong image as a leader, Modi ensures that the BJP is not overloaded with “anti-farmer” stain
Prime Minister Narendra Modi rarely backs down, so his pragmatic decision to drop 2020 farm laws came as a surprise. Seen through the prism of political expediency, however, it makes sense from several angles.
First, it deprives the opposition of valuable leverage in the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections. Following the militarization of a car against protesting farmers allegedly by the son of a Union minister, BJP rivals had sought to portray the unrest as a broader anti-Modi movement.
Second, the agitation of the farmers is led by Jat and the loss of support from the powerful farming community in the west of the UP, where they can influence the results in 60 segments of the assembly, is a matter of concern for the BJP. The party has already lost ground among the Jats of Haryana and Rajasthan, judging by the results of recent bypolls.
BJP executives are relieved that they don’t have to go to the Uttar Pradesh (and Punjab) elections with the specter of Lakhimpur Kheri above their heads, in addition to the ruling opposition and of the probable and very formidable SP-RLD alliance in the west. UP.
Third, Sangh’s frontiers, ideologically uncomfortable with the liberalization of agriculture, have expressed internally their hostility to agricultural laws. In 2015, similarly, they forced the Center to overturn the Land Acquisition Ordinance and blocked the 2019 Seed Bill. Needless to say, Sangh Parivar’s support is vital in UP.
In addition, the Supreme Court’s constant animadversions over the inability to prevent protesters from blocking national roads and greatly hindering the public made the Center appear weak.
In addition, the dropping of agricultural laws could help lure Captain Amarinder Singh into the fold of the NDA and thus prevent erasure in the Punjab. To this end, the announcement was strategically delivered on Gurpurab by the Prime Minister himself.
Is the rollback of agricultural laws an overreaction? Outside the lands of Jat, the agitation of the farmers had no resonance. Even if this were the case, the electoral impact would have been marginal, as the farmers are not a homogeneous group and vote according to criteria of caste, class and community. But neither party wants to carry the burden of an “anti-farmer” smear, which may have prompted the prime minister to back down.
Farm economists will no doubt be dismayed by this decision, as farm laws were seen as a viable way forward for Indian agriculture. In addition to providing private mandis alongside those run by the government (APMC), the laws have relaxed stock limits and provided a regulatory framework for contract farming.
Resource-rich middlemen, who are invested in maintaining the status quo, are said to have deployed the support of sections of the opposition and the Indian diaspora to present the reforms as precursors to the corporatization of agriculture and the dismantling of the system. MSP – and therefore hostile to farmers.
The “non-APMC” Bihar model was cited to denounce agricultural laws, which in fact envisioned Maharashtra’s successful “APMC + private mandis” model. The agriculture minister’s efforts to eliminate misconceptions have fallen on deaf ears. As Prime Minister Modi has said, his government’s failure lies in its inability to “convince” farmers of the effectiveness of agricultural reforms.
A few months after the start of the farmer unrest, it became clear that it was not so much about the laws per se, but about providing a platform for potential politicians, non-state actors and groups who felt marginalized in the current regime.
For the peasant leaders, the retreat of the laws is a triumphant moment, because it reinforces their political weight. They flexed their muscles for the first time in three decades. Since Mahendra Singh Tikait occupied the lawns of the Boat Club in New Delhi, farmer leaders have not appreciated this kind of political relevance.
But for the average farmer, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. They had nothing to lose from agricultural laws, and therefore, have nothing to gain. Dismantling the MSP was never on the table, nor did the laws create the possibility of a corporate takeover of agriculture, as they had been led to believe. So where is the victory?
The point is, the farmer-rulers have tapped into a source of agrarian discontent over growing debts, high farming operating costs, and diminishing returns, and channeled it into protest. Repealing the laws will not solve any of these problems.
The Prime Minister consciously took the risk of tarnishing his image as a “strong leader” by giving in to the demonstrators, who angered the public by blocking the highways for more than a year. Specifically, backing down could open the door to unruly protests from groups of all colors.
But these are problems for the future. For now, the BJP will focus on neutralizing political rivals who have grafted onto farmer agitation in the hope of seducing voting banks.
Bhavdeep Kang is a freelance writer and author of Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas and Just Transferred: the Untold Story of Ashok Khemka. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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