Thanks to Modi, India revives trust in the potential of peaceful protests but...

Farmers are aware that the PM's announcement to repeal the farm laws emanated from his calculating, political mind and not from his heart. BJP leaders are already suggesting that the laws could return

File photo
File photo

Faraz Ahmad

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have conclusively proved that a genuine and peaceful people's agitation on the streets, however long it may take, still has the potential of making even the most arrogant and egoist leader of our times give in.

Farmers went through untold hardships in their one year long struggle demanding repeal of the three farm laws. They feared the laws were meant for the Government to discreetly exit from the business of procurement of farm produce and hand over control over food production, procurement, trade and also acquisition of farm land to marauding and profiteering corporates.

Introduced in the 1960s by Indira Gandhi, the mechanism of Minimum Support Price (MSP) under the able guidance of the father of Green Revolution in India, M.S. Swaminathan, the procurement of food grains by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) encouraged farmers immensely to make India not just self sufficient in food but a food-surplus country, never mind prevailing hunger caused by inequality and flawed distribution policies.

Once BJP formed a government with Nitish Kumar in Bihar in 2006, it promptly abolished the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act and ended the mandi system. That’s exactly what Modi proposed to achieve with his three farms laws across the country. But the impending elections to three of the five states going to polls early next year, namely Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand forced Modi to retrace his steps and even offer an apology.

Some BJP ministers even now have brazenly indicated that the laws would be brought back after the state assembly elections next year. Still others have commended the PM for this “master stroke. Undoubtedly the farmers are happy and sad at the announcement made specially on the Prakash Parv, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, for this is the first time an arrogant and egoist Modi in his 21 years at the helm, first as the Gujarat chief minister and for the last seven years as the Prime Minister of India has had to surrender to the will of the people. It’s a hard-earned victory and deserves all the compliments. But the more significant part of this is the farmers’ will power who have refused to return home till at least Parliament actually passes the laws repealing these laws.

It just shows that witnessing the loss of so many of their comrades in this great struggle, they have learnt the lesson not to trust Modi at face value. It was evident that Modi’s decision did not well up from his heart, as he said, but his political mind. Modi was aware that the growing resentment against these laws was making it difficult for him and his party the BJP to campaign in Punjab, Western UP and the terai region of Uttarakhand, leave alone contest.

As for Punjab, without an alliance partner, BJP could even fail to win a single seat whereas in the 2017 assembly elections it won three seats. A cursory review of the Jana Sangh/BJP performance in Punjab shows that till 1967 elections when most states seemed to be in a mood to replace the Congress rule and usher in an anti-Congress coalition, and the Jana Sangh did extremely well in Delhi and the rest of Cow belt, it could not open its account in Punjab. Even in 1977 in the anti-Congress mood all over the country, under JP’s guidance the Jana Sangh, per se had no standing. Only the Janata Party into which the Jana Sangh had merged scored well.

BJP came into being in 1980 and fought on its own in Punjab and managed to win just one seat. Soon thereafter it started riding piggy back on the Akali Dal and won six seats in 1985; then in 1997 when the alliance between the Akali Dal and BJP alliance was cemented on a more permanent footing, it started doing well and winning double digit seats—18; in 2007 it won 19 and in 2012 it won 12 seats.

But last year SAD broke its alliance with the BJP over these farm laws and the BJP was staring at the prospect of being wiped out from Punjab without an alliance crutch. Thankfully for it, former chief minister Amarinder Singh quit the Congress slighted by his ouster and floated his own party indicating his willingness to align with the BJP, if the BJP repealed the farm laws.

This also opens the door for the return of the Akali Dal back into the NDA fold and additionally an alliance with Amarinder Singh for whatever it is worth. Surely with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) being the main opposition in the present assembly, it could pose a major challenge to the Congress in Punjab, though according to some Punjab observers since the Akali Dal is unlikely to align with the BJP till these elections at least and Amarinder’s alignment with BJP may rebound on him, BJP’s prospects in Punjab are still very bleak.

With this announcement, the BJP will also make overtures to Rakesh Tikait to win over the western UP Jats. Nothing could be put past the BJP’s strategists. But it has to be seen whether Tikait falls for it, because then he may lose some of the sheen he acquired while leading this mass struggle.

The farmers’ agitation was preceded by women’s dharna in Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh against the communally partisan and unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). That peaceful agitation carried on during bitter and harsh winter months. But finally the opponents belonging mainly to the BJP and its other arms brought it to an end with police supported violence in East Delhi. BJP tried to suppress the farmers’ struggle the same way too. But the success of this struggle is a big morale booster to many protesting this government’s fascist functioning-- that victory can be ours if we have the patience and will to sustain peaceful mass struggle in the face of all provocations.

( The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)

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