How farmers made PM Modi eat humble pie - GulfToday

How farmers made PM Modi eat humble pie

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

When word spread early on Friday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation in a couple of hours, many citizens braced up to receive some bad news.

For, his two earlier short-notice speeches, in which he announced devaluation of high-denomination currency notes and imposition of a countrywide lockdown to check spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, had hit the economy hard and ruined the lives of millions.

However, this time he had good news to convey. He said the government had decided to repeal the three farm sector reform laws, as demanded by farmers, who have been agitating against them for more than a year.

The laws were drafted without prior consultations with state governments and farmers’ bodies and rushed through Parliament. The government claimed they would help farmers earn higher prices for their produce. But farmers feared they would disrupt the traditional markets and throw them at the mercy of corporate giants.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest ally, the Akali Dal, which draws support from Punjab’s sturdy Sikh farmers, opposed the measures. Modi ignored its opposition. The Dal withdrew its nominee from the government and ended the alliance. As Modi paid no heed to protests in their states, farmers’ unions decided to carry the battle to New Delhi. On November 26 last year half a million people, all farmers and their family members, reached the outskirts of Delhi along three highways in trucks and tractors.

Police barred their entry into the capital.

They have been camping at the highway points where they were stopped, braving biting cold, blistering heat and pouring rain since then.

In the beginning the Modi regime refused to talk to the farmers’ leaders. Then it sent officials to meet them. The farmers refused to talk to officials.

Later Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar invited farmers’ leaders for talks. He offered to discuss with them proposals for changes in the three laws. They asked the government to repeal the laws. After the farmers reiterated the demand at 11 sessions Tomar stopped meeting them. Modi did not meet the farmers’ leaders at all.

After the Centre failed to act on its suggestion to hold the three laws in abeyance, the Supreme Court ordered stay of their implementation. It did not examine the constitutional validity of the controversial laws. With no way forward before him, the tough-talking Modi, who has publicly boasted his 56-inch chest more than once, climbed down. Ten months after abandoning talks with the farmers, he announced the government’s decision to repeal the laws at the session of Parliament beginning this month and appealed to the protesters to go home.

Modi also offered an apology, not to the farmers who had endured much hardship but to the nation for “some deficiency in our efforts” due to which the government could not convince a section of the farmers about the benefits of the laws.

About 700 farmers reportedly died in the camps around Delhi in the past year.

The presence of a large number of turbaned Sikhs among the protesters prompted some mischievous elements to insinuate a link with the Khalistan movement.

Modi tried a different tack. He made a televised visit to a Sikh shrine. The gesture made no impact on the farmers. Yet Modi picked the birthday of Guru Nanak, the 15th century saint, revered as the founder of Sikhism and the first of 10 Sikh gurus, to announce the decision to scrap the farm laws. Political observers believe electoral considerations dictated the sudden change in Modi’s stand.

In the Assembly elections held this year, Modi’s bid to extend the BJP’s footprints to new areas had failed. In by-elections to the Lok Sabha and to State Assemblies the BJP suffered heavy losses in some of its strongholds. These indicated that that it will face stiff challenges in the five states where Assembly elections are due next year.

To make things worse, farmers’ unions are busy working up anti-BJP feelings in the poll-bound states.

Farmers at the agitation sites greeted Modi’s speech and held victory celebrations. However, the farmers’ unions said the agitation will continue until the laws are actually repealed. The planned nationwide celebrations on Friday, the first anniversary of the Delhi agitation, will be gone through.

They demanded talks on five new demands. These include a law to provide farmers minimum support price for their produce and solatium for the families of those who died during the agitation.

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