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‘Electoral exigencies force Indian premier to withdraw farm laws’

While experts say rollback came as government doesn't consult stakeholders before adopting significant legislation, ruling party denies charge

Ahmad Adil   | 26.11.2021
‘Electoral exigencies force Indian premier to withdraw farm laws’ Indian Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait (C) and others during a protest at Ghazipur border on the outskirts of New Delhi on India, November 26, 2021,The Tens of thousands of farmers rallied on Friday marking one year of their movement that forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw three agriculture laws that feared would drastically reduce their incomes and leave them at the mercy of corporations. ( Imtiyaz Khan - Anadolu Agency )

NEW DELHI

Just a few days ahead when farmers in India would have observed one year of their protests against three agriculture laws – touted by the government as reforms – Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week not only announced the intention of their withdrawal but also apologized to the nation.

While the decision was met with joy, surprise as well as skepticism, many experts have attributed it to the electoral exigencies, as five provincial assemblies are scheduled to go to the polls early next year.

Six days after Modi’s announcement on the national TV network, Union Cabinet on Wednesday decided to seek approval from the parliament later this month to repeal these laws.

Indian parliament had enacted these laws in September 2020 amid fierce protests by the opposition parties.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Niranjan Sahoo, a senior fellow at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said the rollback was more particularly due to the polls in India’s most populated state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

"Western UP has been the epicenter of farmers' agitation. Especially Jats and Sikh populations which form more than 40% of voters were strongly opposed to farm laws. Given these groups formed strong support of ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and had played a critical role in its past victory, the party feared electoral rout in 2022 elections,” he said.

With more than 200 million people, a population the size of Brazil, UP sends the highest number of directly elected members to parliament’s lower house, making it the most politically significant.

BJP may reap some dividends

Besides UP, elections for the northern province of Punjab are also scheduled for early next year.

He said that by repealing laws, the ruling BJP may reap some dividends by roping its old ally the Sikh-centric Akali Dal back to its fold. The Akali Dal had parted ways protesting against these farm laws.

Over the past one-year, right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - the ideological inspiration for the ruling BJP -- had said that anti-social and anti-national forces were influencing farmers’ protests.

These insinuations had angered Sikh farmers, who formed the backbone of the protests.

“It (Modi’s decision) would lessen the antagonism created between BJP/RSS and Sikh groups in Punjab. There was speculation that the central govt's treatment of Sikh farmers (calling them anti-nationals) was pushing some sections of the Sikh population towards radicalization. Thus, the decision may neutralize such possibilities," said Sahoo.

Leading columnist Bharat Bhushan said there were some "immediate and some long-term reasons" behind the withdrawal of the farm laws.

"The proximate reason could be the upcoming elections in five states. In UP, all the reports that are coming from there, claim that BJP is not losing, but that the party may see a precipitous decline in its legislative strength,” he told Anadolu Agency.

On the other long-term reasons, Bhushan said that the RSS was not happy with some developments.

"One was that the Sikhs of Punjab, Uttarakhand, and parts of Rajasthan were joining hands with the Jats (Hindu castes) of UP, Haryana, and Rajasthan against the BJP. The RSS and BJP want to unify Hindus behind their majoritarian agenda. They don't want sections of Hindus – castes like Jats, to oppose the party of Hindutva, the BJP,” he said.

Acknowledging that repealing of farm laws has proved a setback for the image of Prime Minister Modi, Sahoo said it may prove profitable for his party in the elections. But he hastened to add the country will pay a price economically as agriculture reforms are long overdue.

"This is because, the farmer's agitation has impacted over four states: UP, Haryana, Punjab, and Himachal, where BJP remains a strong force. Farm laws were making it difficult for BJP workers to operate in these states. With repeal, this would smoothen their political movement and may render opposition parties to struggle for finding issues to corner BJP," he said.

According to Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), which was spearheading the agitation, 750 people were killed over the past year and hundreds were injured in clashes with police.

No consultation before significant legislations

Besides farm laws, there were protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CCA) also. The law is seen as discriminatory against Muslims. Experts say, another major decision of the government – revocation of autonomy of Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating provisions of Article 370 of Indian Constitution – has also failed to bring peace in the region.

"The people in Kashmir were never consulted before the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was withdrawn. The opposition was not consulted before formulating discriminatory citizenship laws and the farmers were never consulted before drafting the controversial farm laws," said Bhushan, implying the ruling BJP had not taken people on board while taking major decisions.

The BJP leaders, however, have denied these charges.

Syed Zafar Islam, a senior BJP leader, told Anadolu Agency that the decision to repeal the farm laws had nothing to do with elections.

"Since the bills were passed, there were many elections and we have won with a huge margin and our voting shares also have gone up,” he said.

He said the prime minister had tried his best, but felt that a section of farmers did not understand the significance of the laws. He also denied that there would be any political setback to the party because of these farm laws.

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