Mighty Modi’s U-turn on Farm Laws

By Tushar Charan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi might have thought that his ‘U-turn’ on thhe three controversial farm laws would go down well with the farmers but not only it has failed in that respect but has opened up possibilities of more such protests by determined civil society groups staring him in the face. With a number of assembly polls lurking on the horizon, this is the last thing Modi would wish.        

The vociferous and garrulous crowd, including media personnel, was at a loss of words to defend his action because that would have meant eating their own words; and it was not going to be a pleasant experience for them to swallow the filth and vulgarity they had been uttering day in and day out.

While his November 19th speech was being put under the microscope by different sets of people one thing that stood out was that even in what was described as his ‘uncharacteristic retreat’, Modi betrayed his ‘characteristic’ habit of making misleading statements.

He said he was ready to repeal the laws in ‘national interest’—the same ‘national interest’ that was behind his move to introduce the laws! Was he saying that he was now compromising ‘national interest’?

The farmers would not have pleasant memories of how they were first denied permission to gather at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi and then all the torture, physical obstructions and assaults they had to face at the Delhi borders and even inside Haryana to prevent them entering the national capital to exercise their right to protest.

During the past one year of protest, the farmers have endured the physical hardships caused by extremes of heat and cold and also the rains, not to mention the dangers from a raging pandemic.

Anywhere between 500 and 700 farmers are said to have died in the last 12 months. Many families were devastated. But the farmers refused to go away. Modi had no words of sympathy for the farmers—neither in the past one year nor at the time of his nation-wide address.        

His nation-wide broadcast—like all previous ones coming unexpectedly and unannounced—to announce the momentous decision represented only a tactical retreat by the prime minister. The anger among the farmers, though said to be confined to Punjab, Haryana and parts of UP, was reaching alarming proportions for the BJP which has to fight polls in five state assemblies in a few months’ time, including in the politically all-important state of UP.

 The Opposition parties in UP have been attracting huge crowds. A few of the prominent BJP members, including an MP and a sitting Governor, were openly seeking withdrawal of the farming laws.

Modi and the BJP seem to feel sure that the withdrawal of the farm laws would act as the healing balm on the deeply indignant farmers and most would return to the BJP-fold. All the pain and insults that were heaped on them by the heavy-duty propaganda machine of the BJP would be forgotten and forgiven by them by the time the polls are held.

That could be delusional. For the indignities, humiliation and wild and irresponsible allegations against the farmers by the BJP, the Modi Media and even Modi himself cannot be glossed over so quickly. The gathering of farmers stretching 10 to 15 miles from Delhi borders was invariably referred to as ‘handful’ of farmers. They were dubbed variously as Anti-National, Khalistanis, Pakistanis, Maoists, ‘Mavalis’ and also linked to conspiracies which were being spread through toolkits and a host of international celebrities, including the young Green activist Greta Thunberg, to malign the country.

Before he or his party display their displeasure over the alleged attempts to ‘malign’ the image of India outside the country Modi has to do something quickly to redeem his image as a democrat within the country.

The three farm laws, for instance, might not have landed him in such deep embarrassment had he observed the usual practice of prior wide consultations and also referred the bills to a parliamentary committee for closer scrutiny. The irony is that there is almost a unanimous opinion on the need to introduce ‘reforms’ in the farming sector. The question is how to go about it; it cannot be the Modi way.

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst