In a major policy reversal, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday announced that three controversial farm laws that thousands of farmers have been protesting against for over a year will be repealed. The announcement came as a major surprise and is being portrayed as a big loss for Modi and a win for protesting farmers who have camped out in the capital for the last one year.
The victory of the farmers' movement also marks the Modi government's first real defeat in the last seven years. In that sense, it is a momentous occasion in India's political history.
Modi's decision to repeal the three laws indicates that the farmers' agitations brought the Central Government to its knees. Over the last seven years, the Modi government has earned the reputation of being dismissive towards people's agitations. Even an acknowledgement of demands by agitating groups was seen with contempt, or as a sign of weakness for the government obsessed about projecting itself as strong and decisive, The Wire said adding:
On the other hand, the farmers' movement evolved dynamically ever since it began (In November 2020). From a protest that took roots only in Punjab, it grew into a country-wide movement in which farmers' groups set aside their differences and collaborated to take on the powerful government.
In the last few months, the farmers' agitation progressed into becoming a political movement against BJP's polarising tactics. It helped heal the tensions between Jats and Muslims - the two communities torn apart in the aftermath of 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots - in western UP. The movement became the platform for bringing together many communities. Earlier, the farmers' leaders campaigned extensively in West Bengal as an anti-BJP force, and contributed crucially to the humiliating defeat of the fledgling saffron party in the state. There were several instances in which people did not even let the BJP leaders campaign in their villages. The movement also triggered an exodus of lower-rung BJP leaders to other parties in several states.
Rakesh Tikait, farmer leader and National spokesperson of Bhartiya Kisan (farmers) Union (BKU) tweeted that the protests would not be rolled up immediately. "We will wait for the day when agricultural laws will be repealed in Parliament. Government should talk and discuss other farmers' issues including MSP," he added.
Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a farm body leading the protest, welcomed the PM's decision but said they would wait for the announcement to take effect through due parliamentary procedures. "If it happens, it will be a historic victory of the year-long farmers' struggle in India," it said.
Ashok Gehlot, chief minister of the northwestern state of Rajasthan, said that the decision had been taken after Modi's BJP was beaten in recent by-elections, creating panic and fear the party would perform poorly at coming polls.
At least seven states go to assembly polls in the next 11 to 12 months. The biggest of these is Uttar Pradesh (UP) with voting for 403 assembly seats set tentatively for February or March. Other states where assembly polls are expected in February and March include Punjab, Goa and Uttrakhand.
Modi's decision gives the BJP some play in the upcoming elections. It is intended to prevent any further damage to the party. He may have projected his move as a gift to agitating farmers on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, but it is hard to miss that the farmers' movement brought him to a point from where he could not have taken any other decision.
Did Modi repeal farm laws out of 'respect'?
While repealing the farm laws on Friday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it seem like the Bharatiya Janata Party has utmost respect for farmers. "It is important for us that we have not been able to convince all farmers of the benefits of these laws," he said, adding that this was why the Union government had decided to repeal them.
Just a little bit of recall, though, makes the prime minister's words seem less than convincing. Over the last year and more, since farmers began voicing their concerns about the three controversial laws and then protesting at Delhi's borders and in other states, BJP leaders have made several offensive, provocative and even threatening remarks about the farmers, according to Newsclick.
Here are BJP leaders' statements against the protesting farmers, which bring Modi's claims under question.
The one who has perhaps made the most headlines for what he said about the protesting farmers is Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra. "Face me, it will take just two minutes to discipline you fellows," Mishra was heard saying in a video. "'I am not only a minister or an MP and MLA" People who know me even before I became a parliamentarian know that I never run away from taking on challenges. The day I accept a challenge you all will have to leave not only Palia (a local place in the district) but Lakhimpur (his constituency) itself."
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