Poor poll prospects push Modi to repeal farm laws

Back to the wall in UP, Punjab & Haryana, BJP finally reads writing on wall


November 20, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Poor poll prospects push Modi to repeal farm laws

The protest, organised and led entirely by nearly 500 farmers’ unions from all over the country, has remained not only very strong and united, but also largely peaceful (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

The repeal of farm laws reflects on exactly how serious difficulty the Bharatiya Janata Party may be in Uttar Pradesh, besides having almost given up on Punjab and Haryana. The farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders have been cautious in their response to the announcement by Narendra Modi of the repeal. They say they will not pack up and go home unless the laws are actually repealed and their other demands met.

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The repeal of the extremely contentious farm laws is one of the biggest political and ideological defeats for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which had over the past 18 months invested a lot of air time as well political capital and its entire weight behind the farm laws that it has defended from the beginning, calling them as revolutionary and ‘unprecedented and extremely beneficial’ for the farmers across the capital.

Thus, when Modi had to eat the humble pie and take to the national television to announce that in the forthcoming winter session of the Parliament, the process to repeal the laws would begin, it became clear that something had gone very wrong in the political calculations of a party that is often credited en masse by the pro-government media as being very astute and clever.

While an announcement of repeal was not expected so soon, but over the past few weeks, it had become increasingly evident to most political analysts that the ruling party had been backed into a corner over the farm laws, which have drawn an unprecedented year-long and ongoing protest by tens of thousands of farmers across the country and notably at the borders of the national capital, New Delhi. The protest, organised and led entirely by nearly 500 farmers’ unions from all over the country, has remained not only very strong and united, but also largely peaceful, despite frequent provocations, by the government as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Signs of trouble for the BJP

That the ruling party was in for a whacking in the states of Punjab and Haryana has been evident for several months as even the chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, is unable to move freely across the state, facing strong protests by the farmers who have also declared vast swathes of the farm state to be out of bounds for the BJP leaders. In Punjab, the party has largely been confined to its offices for the past 18 months and in the upcoming assembly elections even the most ardent BJP supporters would have had a tough time to expect it to win even a single seat.

While the BJP could have been expected to take a wipe out from Punjab in its stride as long as it scored big in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which also go to the polls at the same time as Punjab. However, the news from the ground in both the states is hardly encouraging for the BJP. A recent opinion poll predicted heavy losses for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and a strong comeback by the leading opposition party, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Moreover, the opinion poll was also reflected in the crowds that Yadav has been drawing in his rallies across the state, despite the BJP deploying all its substantial might as well as that of the central and the state governments.

Moreover, the terrible defeat in the recent Haryana and Rajasthan by-elections where the party was drubbed to humiliating third and fourth spots was another wake-up call for the party leadership that the groundswell of support for the farm movement could well turn into a tsunami that would drown the BJP in the upcoming polls.

Farmers reticent, trust deficit with Modi

However, if Modi and his party had expected that the ‘humility’ with which the Prime Minister had apologised to the farmers would be enough to sway the popular mood in its favour, the response from the ground has been far too tepid to even say that the farmers believed Modi. Indeed, many protesting farmers, as well as their leaders, have all said that the protest will not end just on the basis of this announcement, despite an appeal by Modi. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, a body that brings together over 500 farm unions, said that while it welcomed the announcement, it needed to see the words translate into action and that the protestors were not going anywhere right now. They also said that the government has to also concede other major demands of the farmers like the guarantee of proper implementation of the minimum support price for farm produce as well as repeal of another controversial electricity bill that the farmers have opposed.

Farmers say that the decision has been taken only because the BJP was facing immense resistance and opposition in the five states where the polls are to be held in February 2022 (MIG photos/ Aman Kanojiya)

Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, who bears tremendous influence across the western Uttar Pradesh also said that while the farmers have been away from their homes for over a year now, but they were in no hurry to wind up the protest unless the repeal was completed as well as the other demands of the farmers met. He also cautioned that the announcement could yet be another trickery by Modi and his government to try to split the movement, as has been tried on numerous occasions in the past.

The disbelief of Modi is not limited to the farmer leaders. Surendra Pal Singh is a farmer who lives with his joint family in Bulanshahar district of Uttar Pradesh and they together own 25 acres of land that they cultivate together. Singh says he has been supporting the protest for over a year and has been at the Ghazipur border near New Delhi for most of the time. He says it is too soon to rejoice. “Just on the basis of this speech, we cannot be too happy or celebrate our victory. This arrogant government has created all sorts of difficulties and committed so many atrocities on the farmers for over a year and has called us names and traitors. Over 750 farmers have lost their lives in the protest, yet there was not a word of regret from the government. I don’t believe this government any more at all,” Singh tells Media India Group.

The farmers say that the decision to repeal was not taken because the government was concerned about the farmers or genuinely had changed its opinion. They unanimously say that the decision has been taken only because the BJP was facing immense resistance and opposition in the five states where the polls are to be held in February 2022, notably UP, the largest and politically most important state in the country.

“This decision has been taken only because of the elections and we have all seen that Modi is fond of making big announcements, but without any results. He had promised that each Indian would get INR 1.5 million in our bank accounts as a result of his fight against corruption and black money stashed abroad. He has repeatedly promised millions of jobs. We all have seen the results. So, I don’t think people will now get swayed so easily by Modi and it will be very difficult for the BJP in the elections as they have lost credibility with the people,” Balkishan Yadav, a retired soldier from Sonabhadra in UP, who has taken up farming, tells Media India Group.

Singh, from Bulandshahar goes a step further and castigates the BJP, calling for votes against it. “I would appeal to all voters in these five states to vote against the BJP and for any party that is best placed to defeat the BJP, which has become totally cut off from the people of the country and which has misruled the country so terribly,” he says.

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