Rajat Sharma

How Modi, by repealing farm laws, has taken the wind out of the sails of opposition parties


On the day of Guru Nanak Dev Jayanati, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the opportunity to announce repeal of all the three farm laws that were enacted last year. By making this sudden announcement, Modi enhanced his stature as a statesman.

With folded hands, he apologized to the people of India, not for committing a mistake, but for his government’s inability to convince a section of farmers about the advantages of the farm laws. Modi has the people of India behind him, his government has the support of more than 325 members in Parliament, there was no danger to his government, nor any pressure, and yet, Modi said he was going to get the farm laws repealed because his government failed to convince the farmers.

“It appears there might be some shortcomings in our ‘tapasya’ (labour), because some of our farmer friends are unwilling to accept these laws, that is why we have decided to repeal them”, he said. Modi appealed to the agitating farmers who has been sitting on dharna for nearly a year, to return home.

In my 40 years of experience in journalism, I have seen many governments, including that of Indira Gandhi, but never witnessed a prime minister like Modi, who did not hesitate to humbly apologize to the people, for no mistakes that he had committed. Modi showed to the people why he is the most popular political leader and statesman on the planet. He spoke for 17 minutes and went to his routine work, but his announcement caused tremors in the political space.

There were reactions from almost all political leaders, ranging from the Gandhis to Sharad Pawar, Lalu Yadav, Capt. Amarinder Singh, Navjot Sidhu and others. Late in the evening, the farmers’ front Samyukta Kisan Morcha issued a statement welcoming the PM’s announcement but said the agitation will continue till the farms laws are finally repealed in Parliament. It will now be interesting to watch how farm leaders like Rakesh Tikait, Shiv Kumar Sharma Kakkaji, Darshan Singh, Gurnam Singh Chaduni and Balbir Singh Rajewal will respond in the coming days. It will also be interesting to watch the effects of this announcement on forthcoming polls in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand and other states.

For a prime minister to come and tell his people that he had made the farm laws with “good intent, utmost sincerity and with a clear heart”, and then announce that he was repealing the three laws because his government failed to convince a section of farmers, shows his large-heartedness. I remember how the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh stuck to his stand on India-US nuclear deal despite strong opposition from his Left allies, who had brought a no-confidence motion against him in Parliament. Dr Manmohan Singh did not change his stand nor did he offer apology. There are many such examples of our former prime ministers.

Modi did not follow this line. His government held several rounds of talks with farmer leaders, offered to amend the laws to suit their requirements, even suspended the implementation of the laws, agreed to a Supreme Court appointed experts committee to re-examine the laws, and, at the end, decided to repeal them by saying it could not convince a section of farmers. On Friday, Modi said, he wanted farming to be profitable for the agriculturists and wanted to improve the conditions of farmers. He said, he framed the new laws because, for years, there had been demands from farm experts and farmers for bringing much-needed reforms.

Modi said, his government has implemented many welfare schemes for the benefit of small and marginal farmers, who constitute 80 per cent of India’s farming community. There are more than 10 crore small and marginal farmers who have land holdings of less than two hectares. Seeds, marketing, crop insurance and monetary help have been provided to these small farmers, he said.

It is a fact that Modi government has done a lot for the welfare of farmers in the last seven years. Rs 1.62 lakh crore money was sent directly to the bank accounts of farmers across India under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. Nearly 1,000 agriculture marketing centres (mandis) have been connected through e-NAM (electronic National Agricultural Market), Rs 1 lakh crore was spent on foodgrains storage, crop loan, micro-irrigation, kisan credit cards, soil health cards and crop insurance schemes have been implemented. He promised to set up an experts committee for transparent fixing of minimum support prices. He also promised to introduce zero budget natural farming and scientifically change crop patterns.

Whatever Modi as PM did on Friday (by repealing farm laws) should not be seen in isolation. In his own inimitable style, he effectively replied to those who were alleging that Modi was egotist and arrogant. An egotistic prime minister will never come before the nation and offer unconditional ‘apology’ with folded hands, for not being able to convince a section of farmers, particularly when he committed no mistakes.

This requires large heartedness and courage, which, I think, none of the leading politicians in India presently have. Modi is an elected prime minister, commanding a clear majority in Parliament. He has the Constitutional power to frame laws for ushering in agricultural reforms. Had he wanted, he could have stuck to his stand and refused to yield. But a statesman like Modi, who has grown from humble roots, know the difficulties that farmers went through while sitting on dharna for more than a year, on the borders of Delhi, braving summer and harsh winter. He respected the sentiments of Indian farmers and selected the sacred day of Guru Nanak Dev Jayanti to announce that he was repealing the farm laws. He followed the path of Guru Nanak, who taught his followers the meaning of peace and brotherhood.

Modi displayed his large heartedness, but the farmer leaders, while celebrating their ‘victory’ refused to call off their agitation. They said, they would continue to sit on dharna till Parliament repeals the three farm laws, and a new law to give statutory guarantee for minimum support prices is brought. The most objectionable comment came from BKU leader Rakesh Tikait who said, “is he Kim Jong-un that the laws will be repealed as soon as he makes the announcement on TV?”

Just notice the sheer arrogance in Tikait’s remark. Modi is an elected leader who represents 139 crore Indians and is the leader of the world’s most populous democracy. To compare Modi with the North Korean dictator is an outrageous insult to Indian democracy. It is an insult to the Prime Minister’s sense of humility. Farmer leaders like Tikait want disorder and anarchy in India. Such leaders are more interested in petty politics rather than the welfare of farmers.

It is not the first time that Rakesh Tikait has made such a ludicrous statement. When India lost to Pakistan in T20 World Cup, Tikait said in front of TV cameras that it was Modi who caused Team India’s defeat, so that Hindus and Muslims could be polarized. Had any reporter asked him about Afghanistan, Tikait would have replied that it was Modi who brought in the Taliban to power in order to divert people’s attention from farmers’ agitation. You cannot expect better from Tikait and his ilk.

All the farmer leaders, including Tikait, were shocked on Friday morning when Modi suddenly announced repeal of the three laws. It has taken the wind out of their sails. What I feel is: even if the government brings statutory MSP law, effects changes in electricity law, or accepts all the other demands of farmers leaders, they are not going to withdraw their agitation. Instead of thanking Modi for his large heartedness, they are now adamant about carrying on with the agitation. On the other hand, experienced political leaders like Sharad Pawar, Capt Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal have thanked Modi for repealing the farm laws.

Going through the reactions of Congress, SP, BSP and other leaders, it is clear that Modi’s sudden decision to repeal the farm laws has shocked these parties, which were planning to launch attacks on BJP during the forthcoming assembly polls. It has taken the wind out of their sails. These leaders may well say that Modi repealed the laws because he feared BJP’s defeat in the forthcoming assembly polls. The fact is the opposite: these parties are now staring at defeat in the forthcoming polls, in the absence of a single big issue.

Priyanka Gandhi, Mayawati, Asaduddin Owaisi and Akhilesh Yadav claimed that Modi took this step because of UP polls. If that is so, what is wrong in that? There is nothing wrong if the BJP changes and reformulate its strategy. In Punjab, the Congress government slashed power tariff and condoned all electricity arrears in view of forthcoming polls.

In reality, both the SP and BSP expected polarization of Muslim votes in western UP and Purvanchal. The farmer leaders were getting good support from Jat voters in western UP. Most of the voters earlier used to be BJP supporters. BJP had won 103 out of 136 assembly seats in western UP during the last elections. Both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati were hoping to get support from Jat voters this time, but, with a single strike, Modi has put paid to all such ambitions.

Modi has thus changed the emerging political game in western UP by repealing the farm laws. The political wind that was blowing in UP will now change after Modi’s announcement. The opposition parties are now confused and are in a quandary.

After putting the opposition on the defensive by making his Friday morning announcement, Modi went to Bundelkhand where he lashed out at “parivarwadi” (pro-dynasty) parties for ignoring the plight of farmers. He blamed the Congress, SP and BSP, without naming them, for not ensuring water supply in the dry region of Bundelkhand. Modi also went to the famous Jhansi fort, from where Rani Laxmibai had sounded the war bugle against the British. This time, it was Modi sounding the war bugle for the forthcoming elections.

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