Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement of the repeal of the three farm laws has an obvious and a more subliminal context, both of which pertain to the BJP’s political miscalculations and mismanagement of its reform agenda.
The obvious was highlighted with typical prescience by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
Also see: Explainer: The farm laws, the protests and their repeal
“PM’s announcement on the withdrawal of the three farm laws is not inspired by a change of policy or a change of heart. It is impelled by fear of elections! Anyway, it is a great victory for the farmers and for the Congress party which was unwavering in its opposition to the farm laws,” Chidambaram commented soon after Modi’s morning announcement.
Apple-growers in Himachal
There is a clear connection between the bypoll results early this month — especially in the northern State of Himachal Pradesh — and the farm protests. Himachal borders Punjab and has been witnessing protests by apple-growers who have expressed solidarity with the farm movement.
Also see: Surrender or tactical retreat?
Not only did the BJP lose all three assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat in the bypoll, the result in the Jubbal-Kotkhai constituency in the heart of the apple-growing region is most illustrative of this connection. Apple-growers are upset with the crash in produce price and have been staging protests, demanding a repeal of the farm laws even though theirs is a horticultural produce. The BJP candidate in Jubbal-Kotkhai forfeited his deposit in the bypoll.
UP feels the heat
The heat of the farm movement is spreading and finding political expression from Himachal right up to the terai region in Uttar Pradesh where, after the mowing down of farmers, allegedly by the son of BJP MP and Union Minister of State Ajay Singh, even BJP stalwarts like Varun Gandhi have taken a public position against their own party.
“The Government should accept the farmers’ demands. I haven’t done any corruption but there are leaders who take money from the police, mining… The public has given me power not to uplift myself but to uplift the public and their issues,” Gandhi recently said.
Also see: Salient features that got lost in the din of protest
Gandhi is an MP from the terai region which, along with western UP, has witnessed huge protests. Farmers have expressed support for Jayant Chowdhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal, an ally of the Samajwadi Party (SP), in the upcoming elections in this region that holds about 120 of the 403 seats in UP. The PM made his second tour this week soon after announcing the farm laws on Friday.
Guru Nanak Jayanti
In Punjab too, the political outreach was obvious given that the repeal announcement came on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak and simultaneously, the BJP released pictures of its leaders proceeding to Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Kartarpur. The PM recited Shabad (verses from Guru Granth Saheb) in his address to the nation on Friday morning. Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, whose met with the Home Minister Amit Shah just before he quit the Congress, was quick to exclaim that the “great news” today was all “thanks to the PM”.
This is the obvious political context.
The more subliminal context is the BJP’s political miscalculation and mishandling of the farm laws.
According to its allies in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the BJP had totally underestimated the resolve of the farmers and the need to garner political support around a reform aimed at a socially sensitive and labour-intensive sector like agriculture. Even after the farmers started the movement, the BJP refused to bend for two reasons — it underestimated the resolve of the farmers to prolong their movement and it did not want to induce a trigger effect that repealing the farm laws could have on labour law reforms, privatisation, asset monetisation etc.
The unions at the protest sites have radical left affiliations and the trade unions have already declared their collaboration and joint movements.
Also see: Tears of joy, colour, festive spirit at protest sites
“Once the farm laws have been repealed, what stops the workers from demanding the repeal of the labour laws or the unions from agitating on asset monetisation? The BJP should have thought about all this before triggering a mass movement. This has repercussions,” said a senior Opposition leader.
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