There were certainly economic reasons behind the Narendra Modi Government hurriedly bringing three farm laws but certainly not behind unexpected withdrawal of the same. The jury is still out as to what impelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take his now time tested recourse “address to the nation” to announce repealing of the laws which took the nation by surprise.
Normally he chooses the day, time and place of his choice to make important announcements through the now popular “address to the nation” route, with meticulous planning. Never to repent, recant and out of question to admit failure as in the case of demonetisation and GST formulation and implementation.
November 19, 2021 was though different. Instead of utilising the prime time space of news channels to announce repealing the farm laws before a house-full, Mr Modi instead settled for an innocuous early morning broadcast/telecast to deliver the all important message. He went on the air, unlike the earlier occasions, without the customary hype and build-up to alert the nation before making the announcement.
Definitely, the day of announcement- the birth anniversary of first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev- was of choosing, though seemed sudden, as it matched the USP of the ruling dispensation of relying heavily on symbolism than anything else. Unfortunately, the year-long farmers’ agitation has been attached to the Sikh faith by sections of the ruling BJP though in effect it transcends any religion or region. There are issues rightly raked up by the agitating farmers but it would be naive to say that their leaders were acting without any political inclination.
Nonetheless, he delivered the most unexpected message in a style unconventional to his image, both in terms of nature and method, if Mr Modi the hard-boiled, thoroughbred politician is on course to changing tack? Has the realisation dawned on him that decision making in a democratic polity is all about desires and aspirations of the people through a spirit of debate and carrying them along, and that there is very little or no space for personal beliefs of either the leader or the party in power in governmental matters. Unless they have been fully convinced!
In case of the farm laws debate and convincing were the casualties which ultimately led to the farmers hitting the street and politics from either-side, ruling and opposition, taking the centre-stage. Yes, for posterity the government did hold 16 meetings with the protesting farmers’ leaders. From the first meeting itself, it became apparent that those representing the government were merely on a time-buying mission to burn out the protesting farmers into retreat. As a result the conflict continued to grow.
So, question again arises as to why did the Prime Minister announce withdrawal of the farm laws and went a step ahead to have apologised to the farmers and the nation? It was the first of its kind move from him.
A Prime Minister bowing to the wishes of the people and more so when it happens to be the farmers, is a gracious act and by no means a fall from grace. Mr Modi deserves praise for that despite the fact that every effort was made by his speech-writers, can it be on their own, to ensure that the government has an upper-hand, and just stopped short of fully justifying the farm laws once again.
Apart from the theories of internal pressure from the RSS top brass to diffuse the farmers’ agitation, the most plausible reason behind this step-back is definitely political-electoral. The loss of face in the recently held 29 bi-elections to Lok Sabha and assembly seats in different states including in the BJP ruled Himachal Pradesh (HP) had set the alarm bells ringing in the rightwing corridors. With the next round of assembly elections in five states including the politically important Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Punjab round the corner, Mr Modi seemed to have no option but to repeal the laws as thereafter the counting for 2024 Lok Sabha starts.
Out of the five states where assembly elections are due early next year three namely Punjab, UP and Uttrakhand fall in the north-Hindi hinterland and all three states particularly UP are significant for BJP from the point of view of next Lok Sabha election. Certainly the party’s dismal performance in HP triggered the reaction as it would not only reflect on the neighbouring UP and Uttrakhand but also not augur well for HP as well where assembly elections will be held in the second half of 2022.
It is desirable not to analyse the withdrawal of farm laws in terms of victory for some and defeat for some. But it seems unavoidable when the decision has all the trappings of political-electoral motivation. The situation perhaps would have been different had it been done six months earlier and not on the eve of assembly elections. Coming immediately after the bi-election results, it surely has a correlation with the repealing of the farm laws no matter how much the BJP strategists deny.
The government must be graceful to deal with the situation post-repealing the laws and it will have to go an extra-mile to establish its credibility in the eyes of the farmers. Right now it is easier said than done as uncharitable comments continued to be made by the ruling BJP quarters against the farmers and that the laws would be brought back once the next round of elections are over.
The Modi government has certainly pushed a panic button by suddenly expressing its intent to repeal the laws. The urgency to diffuse the situation before UP and other assembly elections was strongly reflected in the fact that Mr Modi lost no time in convening the cabinet meeting and clearing the Bill related to withdrawal of the laws to be subsequently passed by Parliament. “The Bill will be taken up on priority basis in the winter session of Parliament,” Information and Broadcasting Minister, Mr Anurag Thakur declared after the cabinet meeting.
The indomitable spirit of the Prime Minister must prevail over his party colleagues who should refrain from making controversial comments if the situation is to be diffused and issues resolved amicably. It is rather worrying that his words and assurance on withdrawal are not being taken at face value by the protesting farmers as well others in the society.
Credit goes to the farmers for successfully using the peaceful democratic means of protest to bring the government on its knees. The most powerful political party of the world, the BJP in fact should rejoice that by withdrawing the laws to fulfil farmers’ demand they have honoured the democratic traditions of dissent, debate and discussion.