Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
At long last, on the eve of crucial elections to Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur so to speak, the central government blinked, and announcement came of withdrawing the three farm laws enacted by the Parliament last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement of the decision of the government to withdraw the three farm laws in an address to the nation on the auspicious day of Gurupurab.
Though the laws were applicable across the country, protests broke out largely in north India’s Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where farmers laid siege to the union capital, which the union government and the BJP ruled states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana tried to suppress. However, the farmers showed that they were more than a match to the might of the governments and stayed put on the borders of Delhi, and even fought a legal battle over their right to protest in the Supreme Court.
Being seen largely as a victory of the farmers against the might of a determined central government and the ruling BJP, the farmers are beginning to harden their stand further, with the farm stir leader Rakesh Tikait upping the ante, calling for legislating the guarantee of MSP as a condition for withdrawal of the farmers’ protests.
After he made the announcement on farm laws, the Prime Minister appealed to the farmers to withdraw their stir. "I would request all my protesting farmer friends, today is the auspicious day of Guru Purab, return home to your fields and your families and make a new beginning, let us move forward afresh,” the Prime Minister said.
Thanking the prime minister for the announcement, the farmers leaders however said the farmers would vacate the borders and call off their stir only after the laws were formally repealed inside the parliament, and a fresh law on MSP guarantee was passed.
Expressing happiness that the government finally saw reason and withdrew the farm laws that the farmers felt were against their interests and loaded in favour of the big industry and large companies engaged in agriculture trade and marketing, Tikait said if the government created conditions conducive to talks, everything could be settled through negotiations. But the farmers would need proper reassurance on their genuine demands, in the form of a legislation on MSP guarantee.
It may be recalled that since the farm laws were first brought in through a set of ordinances, the farmers have been up in arms against the new rules and regulations that they believed would place them at the mercy of large corporations.
Clearly, the government and its entire machinery failed to convince the farmers about how the new farm laws were for their own benefit. Announcing the intention to repeal the farm laws, Prime Minister Modi said, “I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that perhaps there must have been some deficiency in our efforts, due to which we could not explain the truth like the light of the lamp to some farmers.”
The Prime Minister chose to make the announcement on Guru Nanak Jayanti, which sparked off impromptu celebrations among the farmers sitting on dharnas on the Delhi borders. However, the farmers leaders welcomed the news with caution and the general sentiment was that they would vacate the protest sites only after the government carried out its intent with concrete action inside the parliament.
The three laws, that initially came in as ordinances, -- the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 – were already stayed by the Supreme Court for a period of two years, during the period which the both sides were to hammer out a negotiated settlement. A few rounds of negotiations did take place, but the talks remained inconclusive with both sides sticking to their respective rigid stands.
Incidentally, the reaction on the ground in election-going states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh with BJP leaders finding it difficult to face the farming community on the ground ahead of the crucial assembly polls during the run up to the Lok Sabha general elections due in 2024 could be the real reason for the government making a u-turn is the general consensus of the opposition that gave full support to the farmers’ stir, albeit from a safe distance.
Clearly, neither the farmers nor the opposition parties led by the Congress wanted to give the farmers protest political colours lest its import be diluted and give a handle to the ruling BJP to discredit the stir.
To be fair, the Prime Minister said, this was not the time to blame anyone. In his address the Prime Minister said that the government will, in the ensuing Parliament session that begins later this month, will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three farm laws.
No sooner did the Prime Minister make the announcement, the farmers and the opposition were up on their feet trying to claim credit for forcing the government to bend and go on the backfoot.It is a victory of the farmers' satyagraha over the centre’s arrogance was the sharp attack from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who had lent his support to the farmers' stir from day one.
Farmers mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at Delhi’s borders demanding the repeal of the laws. The protesting farmers did get support from farmers of several states, who came and participated in the Delhi border agitation.
Although there is nothing to suggest that the decision to withdraw three farm laws had anything to do with politics, the timing of the decision is suspect. The opposition did not waste even a second and dubbed it as a move of a desperate party that was fearful of losing the assembly polls. The opposition leaders did not lose the opportunity to remind the people that the central government tried every trick to break the farmers' stir, but had to finally bow down. Congress leader Priyanaka Gandhi was more direct and took a jibe at the PM and said “sending defeat in polls, started understanding the reality of the country.”
The farm laws repeal decision did not come as a surprise though as indications to this effect were made by the former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh. He was ousted and replaced by Dalit face Charanjit Singh Channi by the Congress – seen as a move to overcome anti-incumbency against their own Chief Minister.
Captain Amrinder Singh, angry at being dropped unceremoniously declared quitting the party and began exploring ways and means to tie up with the BJP. He had met both Prime Minister Modi and union Home Minister Amit Shah amid expectations of a tie up between him and the BJP. Nothing, however, has been heard about such a tie up so far, but speculations are strong of such an eventuality.
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected]
and Twitter handle @kvlakshman