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BJP might reap benefit at UP polls as Modi announces repeal of 3 farm laws

Only the assembly election results will reveal if the Modi government was able to overcome farmer distrust

PM Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the nation, in New Delhi (Photo: PTI)

Aditi Phadnis New Delhi
Agricultural experts can say what they like. They can debate till the end of time about whether the repeal of the three farm laws, which is now just a formality till early December when the winter session of Parliament will dot the i's and cross the t's, was wise or not. But like the Land Acquisition law, the Narendra Modi government has stooped to conquer. Just as the proposed amendment of the land acquisition laws was mooted in Modi’s first term and then withdrawn following an agitation during which Rahul Gandhi coined the ‘suit boot ki sarkar ‘phrase, the farm laws have been withdrawn in their entirety.

The implications are pretty staggering. If the farm laws were originally meant to signal an agri-sector reform initiative, as many ministers have asserted repeatedly,  then we must conclude that the Modi government has turned its back on reform in the face of political protest. The lesson is that if you dig in and fight against badly needed but unpopular laws and mass together enough supporters, you can wear the government down even though it has an unassailable majority in Parliament. So should we expect a similar U-turn on proposed cryptocurrency or personal data protection laws? And if the south Indian states, led by Tamil Nadu, demonstrate a similar show of unity and will on NEET, will the government overturn that too? What about anger against infrastructure development projects in Goa? Or the proposed extension of the Border Security Force’s jurisdiction in Punjab?

The timing of the government’s move is equally interesting. It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to work out that the agitation by the farmers had put the BJP’s electoral prospects at peril. In Punjab, where the party has announced it will contest all assembly seats on its own, the government’s stubborn stance caused it to lose the party oldest alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The party could argue that if the BJP had listened to it in the first place, all this could have been avoided, including its own exit from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It was, at the end of the day, a move that didn’t help anyone. As the BJP’s strength in the state is negligible, the benefits of scrapping the law will help SAD become a martyr (it will play on the fact that it gave up its position in government in the interest of farmers) and former chief minister Amarinder Singh’s new party, which will make its debut in the upcoming assembly elections. It was, after all, under the helmsmanship of Amarinder Singh that the state assembly passed a unanimous resolution opposing the laws, a move that bitter rival SAD was forced to support.

So, if the BJP took the repeal decision eyeing Punjab, the balance of advantage accrues to its political rivals. However, it  is in Uttar Pradesh that the party hopes to reap the benefit of the repeal. It is significant that the repeal decision came after the party’s Delhi national executive meeting where the prospects of the party in every poll-bound state were discussed threadbare.

Western UP, where the effect of the farmers’ movement against the laws was the most effective and damaging to the BJP, has more than 40 assembly seats at stake. As a majority of the Western UP farmers are Jats, it is a double whammy: In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had cornered 91 per cent Jat votes in western UP, according to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). But the movement against the farm laws had been spearheaded by a man who claimed he represented only farmers interests, while at the same time, keeping his sights firmly fixed on the assembly elections. The Tikait family and their supporters had calculated that they would have made a killing in western UP – even in areas where without winning the seats they would have acted as spoilers for the BJP. How the lobby of farmers protects its political interests now will have to be watched.

Modi supporters will jubilantly hail the repeal as a demonstration of the government’s democratic credentials. But is it closing the stable doors after the horses have bolted? Will the government be able to overcome farmer distrust? Only the assembly election results will reveal that.

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First Published: Nov 19 2021 | 3:01 PM IST

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