Given the speculations that did the round soon after former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh quit the Congress, the repeal of the three farms laws may not be surprising.
The legislations, first passed as Ordinances and then enacted by Parliament, were meant to be for farmers welfare but turned contentious as political parties tried to take advantage of some disgruntled elements, particularly the arthiyas (commission agents) in Punjab and Haryana.
But reading closely at the two most important aspects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the last word on the farm laws has been said yet, though he and his government have temporarily beaten a retreat.
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“Whatever I did for the farmers was for their welfare. What I am doing (now by repealing the laws) is for the country,” Modi said, leaving many of those who backed the laws wondering.
There were two drawbacks, primarily, in enacting the farm laws that will ensure farmers sell their produce anywhere to anyone across the country, enter into contract farming on their terms, and sell their produce without worrying about stock limits.
One was its communication to the people, in general, and farmers, especially. Even as the usual fear-mongering of corporate takeover, ending of the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism and a host of other things were done, the Modi government was on the backfoot. It never tried to counter these allegations.
Congress party’s hypocrisy
For example, it was left to those backing the farm laws to point out the hypocrisy of a party like the Congress, which talked of these very same laws in its 2019 Lok Sabha elections manifesto. If the BJP says it did point out, then they failed to convince.
Second, the legislation was rushed through in Parliament in September last year. Agreed, the Opposition was not allowing both the houses to function peacefully, but that does not absolve the government of the blame of rushing through laws that it sees as crucial for the country.
Read more: Why the new agri laws are not anti-farmer
It is here that Modi’s second remark assumes significance. He said probably, there was something short in his “ tapasya ” that did not reach the farmers fully.
“I never left out anything in my hard work. Today, I assure you that I will work even harder, so that your dreams, nation’s dreams can be realised,” he said. It means he and his government will now try and convince the need for these legislations to be implemented date.
He has also said a committee will be formed with officials from the Centre and States, indicating that the farm law may come in a new avatar.
As such, the farm laws never got going. First, the Supreme Court entered into the legislation domain to stay the laws. Second, the Centre itself offered to stay the implementation of the laws for a year-and-a-half.
Power of mandis
Privately, those involved with governments in various roles have said how the farm laws were crucial and were a game-changer than the 1991 economic reforms. A few who have pointed out how the chiefs at the agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) yards were more powerful than village pradhans .
This is one reason why political parties such as the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and Nationalist Congress Party opposed the laws since they draw their powers from these mandis, where the chiefs writ run large.
However, what has disappointed the supporters of the laws is that even when the 1991 economic reforms were vehemently opposed, the then government under the late PV Narasimha Rao did not buckle under pressure.
There is one difference between then and now, though. One, the reach of the social media through which all rumours were spread and rumour-mongering were done. Two, foreign elements got involved in these protests.
Politicians in Canada and the United Kingdom making statements opposing the farm laws, to satisfy their own supporters put India under pressure. There have been reports of farmers’ protests being funded.
The problem with the opposition to the laws is that it gave rise to Khalistani elements again. Also, manoeuvres were afoot to topple the Haryana government using the farm law opposition.
Last but not least, the Kheri incident in Uttar Pradesh that saw eight farmers being run over by a vehicle allegedly by a Union Minister's son also complicated things. The Kheri incident has brought to fore the fears of the farmers’ protests leading to caste clashes.
Modi might be seen as one cowing down to the pressure of “violent” farmers. But politically, he may have nothing to lose. In particular, Congress has to look at some other issues to retain power in Punjab, where the BJP has opened a channel for Capt Amarinder Singh to join hands and defeat the Congress.
In short, despite the climbdown, Modi has nothing to lose politically by repealing the laws. But for now, it looks like politics has gained over development.