Will Centre's gambit on farm laws repeal click?

Opposition is patting its back claiming that they forced the Modi Government to take a ‘U’ turn on the issue of the three farm laws
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Opposition is patting its back claiming that they forced the Modi Government to take a ‘U’ turn on the issue of the three farm laws

Highlights

The Opposition is patting its back claiming that they forced the Modi Government to take a ‘U’ turn on the issue of the three farm laws.

The Opposition is patting its back claiming that they forced the Modi Government to take a 'U' turn on the issue of the three farm laws.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement on Friday, that all the three farm laws would be withdrawn has been welcomed by most opposition political parties. Sonia Gandhi said it is a victory for the sacrifice of farmers. "I hope Modi Government has learnt a lesson for the future," she said.

Before we analyse the issue a little more, let us first look at the reactions. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, ""This golden day will be written in the pages of history like August 15 and January 26. The Centre bowed down to farmers. This is not just the victory of farmers but also the victory of democracy. This victory proves no matter which party or leader is there, your ego will not stand before people."

BSP president Mayawati said the decision to withdraw the three contentious farm laws by the Prime Minister was "a victory" for farmers and their long struggle against the laws and demanded law on MSP.

Some leaders said that the BJP-led Union government only bowed to the demands of the farmers, who have been protesting against the laws for more than a year, due to the impending elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. They also lamented that the decision came after "more than 700 farmers died" during the protests.

Modi chose Prakash Divas, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak to apologise to the farmers and said that his government failed to convince them about the advantages of these farm laws. This day assumes significance since many Sikh farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were actively involved in the protests.

It will also pave way for alliance with the former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. Sikhs attach great sentimental value to this day and seeking apology on this day, definitely will have its own soothing effect to some extent. The possibility of Amarinder Singh joining BJP also cannot be ruled out now.

Unfortunately, what is happening is instead of detailed in-depth debate on the farm laws, the impact of withdrawal of it and what next, the opposition parties are trying to gain political mileage saying, "we won."

There will be at least a day long debate on this issue when the government would move a bill to repeal these acts. The opposition will try to dramatise the situation and will lash at the BJP. It will say that it took more than a year for the government to repeal the three farm laws that provoked massive protests, beginning in Punjab on August 9, 2020.

They will also refer to the violent face-offs with the police, occasionally dissent from within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and periodic protests by the Opposition and farmers' deaths to prod the government to renege on a significant decision and how it spread to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

The killing of farmers in Avadh's Lakhimpur Kheri and the arrest of the son of a central minister for allegedly mowing down protestors with his SUV will be another missile the opposition would hurl at BJP.

The BJP on its part will claim that the agitation did not spread beyond western UP. Elsewhere, in Avadh and east UP, farmers were not overtly concerned with the laws which they believed largely concerned the "well-off" Jat farmers of the west, who were the principal beneficiaries of the land redistribution measures taken by Chaudhary Charan Singh when he was the CM.

The farmers now say that they will not withdraw unless the Centre passes a law on MSP. Well this is an issue which needs to be examined from legal point of view. If the centre gives such a guarantee, the question to be examined is will it affect the free market opportunities for other countries and will it go against the jurisdiction of WTO?

A lot of churning is said to be on in the BJP and at the level of central government and there is every possibility that the saffron party will turn this issue into an advantage for the government and it will be the State governments that will feel the brunt of the decision.

The possibility of Centre transferring the onus of fixing MSP by State governments is not ruled out. This certainly will be cause serious problems for the States which of late taking to streets trying to put the BJP in dock.

The BJP at present has 80 Lok Sabha seats and 403 assembly seats in its sight and its fortunes hang on not just retaining it but cutting the anticipated losses in the legislature. In 2017, the BJP won 324 seats, primarily those in the rural areas.

West UP has about 70 seats. The BJP has always been strong in this belt on the strength of the Jat votes but the speculation is that since this community has vocally expressed its resentment and has been questioning the farm laws, it looks like they are gravitating towards the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) founded by the late Ajit Singh, the scion of Charan Singh, and inherited by his son, Chaudhary Jayant Singh. But then Ajit Singh has been close to BJP all along.

In the Avadh region, analysts say that even marginal famers were questioning the government as to why it was so adamant and reluctant to withdraw the farm laws and give statutory guarantee to MSP instead of the open market dictate the price line.

Their discomfort was accentuated by other problems: the unseasonal rains that adversely affected the quality of the standing paddy crops and made the yield practically unfit for consumption, the rampaging unclaimed cattle let loose by owners who could not hand them over to the abattoirs once they became unproductive and lastly an acute fertiliser shortage. Combined, these factors have made agrarian concerns a matter of worry for the BJP.

In the backdrop of this situation, the Centre took the decision to repeal the farm laws. It felt that perhaps there can be no better times, strategically and electorally. The feedback the party got from its own network which included the BJP MPs, MLAs and RSS workers was that repealing these contentious laws, legislative surety for MSP and restricting the role of open markets and shortage of fertilisers had become a major issue not only among farmers of all castes and economic class.

The farmers, the feedback said form the backbone of the BJP and small and marginal farmers were angry with the saffron party. This could be one of the reasons which forced the BJP to decide to repeal the farm laws. This act could even work as a balm on the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) with whom farm laws led to rupture of its 24-year-old poll.

The SAD has been in trouble following its breakup of its alliance with the BJP and a backlash from its core constituency from the farmers as it had initially supported the farm laws. The first gesture of BJP to appease the Sikh community was its decision to reopen the Kartarpur corridor. Two days later it repealed the farm laws. The repeal of these laws will also help BJP to go in for new political alignments in Punjab.

The Akalis can now hope to recover the political ground they lost in their traditional bastion of farmers. But, the key question in Punjab now is: will the SAD and the BJP warm up to each other and again forge an alliance that once welded the Sikh and Hindu constituencies in an electorally formidable way? Political analysts don't rule out such possibility.

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