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How farmers fed PM Modi a humble pie




Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

When rumor spread early on Friday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation in a matter of hours, many citizens braced for bad news.

Because his two previous short-term speeches, in which he announced the devaluation of high face value banknotes and the imposition of a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, had hard hit the economy and ruined the lives of millions of people.

However, this time he had some good news to share. He said the government had decided to repeal the three agricultural sector reform laws, as demanded by farmers, who have been agitating against them for more than a year.

The laws were drafted without prior consultation with state governments and farmer organizations and rushed to Parliament. The government said they would help farmers get higher prices for their products. But farmers feared disrupting traditional markets and throwing them at the mercy of corporate giants.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest ally, Akali Dal, which enjoys the support of Sikh farms in the Punjab, has opposed the measures. Modi ignored his opposition. The Dal withdrew his candidate from the government and ended the alliance. As Modi paid no heed to the protests in their states, the farmers’ unions decided to take the battle to New Delhi. On November 26 last year, half a million people, all farmers and family members, reached the outskirts of Delhi along three highways in trucks and tractors.

The police prohibited them from entering the capital.

They camp at the highway points where they were pulled over, braving the biting cold, scorching heat and pouring rain ever since.

At first, the Modi regime refused to speak to peasant leaders. Then he sent officials to meet with them. The farmers refused to speak to the officials.

Later, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar invited farmer leaders for talks. He offered to discuss with them the proposed changes to the three laws. They called on the government to repeal the laws. After the farmers reiterated the request in 11 sessions, Tomar stopped meeting with them. Modi did not meet with the leaders of the farmers at all.

After the Center did not follow up on its suggestion to suspend the three laws, the Supreme Court ordered their implementation to be suspended. He did not examine the constitutional validity of the controversial laws. With no way to advance in front of him, the hard-talking Modi publicly boasted of his 56-inch chest more than once, went downstairs. Ten months after abandoning talks with farmers, he announced the government’s decision to repeal the laws during the session of parliament that begins this month and called on protesters to return home.

Modi also apologized, not to the farmers who had endured much hardship, but to the nation for “some deficiency in our efforts” due to which the government could not convince some of the farmers of the benefits of laws.

Around 700 farmers are believed to have died in camps around Delhi last year.

The presence of large numbers of turbaned Sikhs among the demonstrators prompted some malicious elements to suggest a connection with the Khalistan movement.

Modi tried a different approach. He made a televised visit to a Sikh shrine. The gesture had no impact on the farmers. Yet Modi chose the birthday of Guru Nanak, the 15th-century saint, revered as the founder of Sikhism and the first of 10 Sikh gurus, to announce the decision to repeal agricultural laws. Political observers believe electoral considerations dictated Modi’s sudden change in stance.

In the assembly elections held this year, Modi’s attempt to expand the BJP’s footprint into new areas failed. In by-elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the BJP suffered heavy losses in some of its strongholds. They have indicated that he will face significant challenges in the five states where Assembly elections are scheduled for next year.

To make matters worse, farmer unions are busy sparking anti-BJP sentiments in election-related states.

Farmers at the unrest sites praised Modi’s speech and celebrated the victory. However, farmers’ unions said the unrest will continue until the laws are effectively repealed. National celebrations scheduled for Friday, the first anniversary of the Delhi unrest, will take place.

They demanded talks on five new demands. These include a law to provide farmers with a minimum support price for their produce and solatium for the families of those who died during the unrest.




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