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With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farm law reversal, opposition has yet another chance to unite




Prime Minister Modi’s announcement came after year-long protests by tens of thousands of farmers. (To file)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to repeal farm reform laws in the face of persistent protests – his biggest political turnaround since taking office – gave momentum to his opponents ahead of the crucial state election. The question is whether they can finally take advantage of it.

So far, the shattered opposition has failed to demonstrate its ability to capitalize on the missteps of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. These divisions were apparent last month, when a convoy allegedly carrying the son of a senior official in Prime Minister Modi’s cabinet entered a mob of protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh, killing a total of eight people.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a descendant of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and leader of the main opposition Congress party, was among the first to reach the crash site. Other opponents of Prime Minister Modi in the state, which is holding key elections early next year, have also rushed to the scene. But instead of joining forces, they all organized separate gatherings.

Competing political events have highlighted one of the main reasons Prime Minister Modi continues to dominate Indian politics: Opposition parties have failed to cooperate, effectively dividing the electorate who oppose his BJP predominantly Hindu.


A funeral ceremony for those killed in the Delhi border violence in Tikunia, Uttar Pradesh, in October.

Baljit Singh, 30, a state farmer who was at the scene of violence last month and voted for the BJP in the 2019 national election, said he would support anyone other than Prime Minister Modi even after swearing to repeal agricultural laws. But even he wasn’t sure which party he would vote for.

“I am watching the different opposition parties and will give my vote to one of them, but not to the BJP,” Singh said.

Before Prime Minister Modi’s announcement on Friday, after year-long protests by tens of thousands of farmers, his party was on the verge of securing a victory in Uttar Pradesh while losing a significant number of seats. The state, which has around half the population of the European Union as a whole, is seen as a crucial indicator of national sentiment ahead of the next general election in 2024. The BJP won 77% of the seats in the election national 2017.

Prime Minister Modi’s party is lagging behind opinion polls in Punjab, where Sikh farmers have been instrumental in the protests. His apology for agricultural laws came as the country celebrated the birthday of the founder of the Sikh faith.


A gathering of tractors near the Singhu border post on Republic Day in Delhi.

“It was clear that farm laws were going to be a point of irritation in the next election,” said Sandeep Shastri, vice-chancellor of Jagran Lakecity University in Bhopal. “He made a virtue out of a necessity.

Opposition inertia

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was quick to respond to Prime Minister Modi’s speech, tweeting that “those who feed the nation have peacefully conquered arrogance.” The Samajwadi party, BJP’s main rival in Uttar Pradesh, also tweeted calling the news of the setback a victory for farmers.

But there was no sign from opposition parties that they would start working together against the BJP, which controls 17 of the 28 states and has a one-party majority in the lower house of parliament. The Congress Party is the only national opposition, with the rest divided between a variety of regional and caste-based political parties.


A Congress party supporter swirls the party flag at a roadside teahouse in Lucknow.

Discontent has been mounting for some time among the main opposition parties. Mamata Banerjee, who has ruled West Bengal – India’s fourth most populous state – for a decade, lashed out at Congress last month for not taking politics “seriously”.

Last month in Bihar, the party and Congress of former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav broke an alliance and both fielded by-election candidates for the local assembly seats, before losing to the ruling coalition led by the BJP. Subsequently, Lalu Yadav declared that it was “high time” for all opposition parties to unite under Congress to defeat the BJP.

Farm laws present a problem with nationwide impact: some 60 percent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people depend on agriculture in one way or another. In an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday, an influential farm leader said protests would continue even after Prime Minister Modi repealed the laws as farmers seek price guarantees for all their crops.


Farmers after the funeral ceremony of protesters killed when a car crashed into a group of protesters in Tikunia, Uttar Pradesh.

“It was a good move by the prime minister, but it should have been done much sooner,” said Balwinder Singh, a wheat and rice farmer from Punjab, who took part in the protests on the Delhi border. “He had no choice but to repeal the laws. We would have voted for him if he had repealed the laws without getting in trouble over the past year.”

Even before Prime Minister Modi decided to repeal agricultural laws, Uttar Pradesh’s BJP had rejected opposition attempts to capitalize on the tragedy involving the car hitting protesters. Kaushal Kant Mishra, a spokesperson for the party, called “political tourism” the visits of political leaders to the neighborhood affected by violence.

In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Modi said: “I urge all my restless fellow farmers that today is Guru Purab’s holy day and therefore you should return to your homes, fields and families. . Let’s take a fresh start. move forward with a new beginning. “


Farm laws present a problem with national impact.

A major problem for disparate opposition parties is what they stand for other than being against Prime Minister Modi, according to Milan Vaishnav, director and senior researcher in the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Bringing the fight to the BJP means a sustained campaign with affirmative elements,” he said. “In other words, the opposition parties need to come up with something positive through an alternative vision and not just criticize the ruling party.”




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