By Sauro Dasgupta
As the government withdrew the three farm bills, it signified a greater shift in the Modi government’s public policy shift. It shows that the government can balance the interests of the country with the interests of the party.
The Modi government got the farm bills passed in Parliament without a concrete discussion. The protests against the bills were deemed anti-national, mollycoddled by the deep state of Pakistan and Khalistani groups, a conspiracy theory that gained much traction. The government and the ruling party and their allies tried to defend the farm bills through thick and thin. The sheer arrogance and inhumane face of the party could be seen when a convoy of the son of a minister in the government rammed into a group of protestors at Lakhimpur Kheri. Despite the intervention of the Supreme Court, the ruling party refused to prosecute the perpetrators.
Almost sixty-five protestors died of cold, injuries or targetted violence of the State. When the Opposition and various charitable foundations tried to provide the protestors with some relief, they were brutally persecuted. The raw violence of the State could be seen with full vigour.
The farm bills were entirely designed to fully corporatize Indian agriculture. Though it seemed an attractive proposition, close interaction with farmers reflects their main worry behind the same. Many companies enter agriculture, buy products from farmers at a high price and sell it in the market under their brand name. Gradually, they started growing products like meat (lab-grown meat), Genetically Modified products, etc. They eventually stopped purchasing products from the farmers. Since they had already eased out the middlemen who would stand by farmers in all their difficulties, farmers were now helpless, with many of them being forced to commit suicide. Since the farmers were too poor to afford quality education, the future of the farmers and their children was devastated as well.
The farmers’ protest evolved from a protest to a movement in no time. Huge rallies were organized by NRIs abroad to rally support for the cause of the farmers. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the first leader to support the farmers. He voiced his dismay against the heavy-handedness of the Indian State against the farmers.
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The government, on its part, tried to assuage the concerns of the protestors against the farm bills. The death of people like Navdeep Singh and the young protestors at Lakhimpur Kheri was a turning point in the protests. The mob lynching of the young Dalit farm labourer from Taran Taran, Lakhbir Singh by Nihangs at Singhu border, demonstrated that a few protestors had gone the other way, unlike their fellow protestors who protested peacefully.
Despite a huge majority in the Parliament, it was quite reasonable and well-timed of the ruling party to withdraw the bills. This happened previously only in case of the Land Ordinance (2015) and the SC/ST Act (2018). The ruling party feared upsetting its poll equations and alliances in states like Punjab, where an alliance with Punjab Lok Dal of ex Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and the Shiromani Akali Dal of the Badals is in the offing. This alliance has become brighter after a meeting of Captain Singh with Prime Minister Modi. This alliance may continue in the Uttar Pradesh polls as well along with its regional allies like Apna Dal and the Republican Party of India (Athawale) led by Union Ministers Anupriya Patel and Ramdas Athawale, respectively.
The middlemen referred previously have always been strong supporters of the ruling party. Farmers have also voted enthusiastically for the party in the past. Therefore, they constituted a solid vote bank for the ruling party in the Northern provinces of India. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, which is the farmers’ wing of the RSS also protested against the bills, just as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh had also protested against the privatization of public sector undertakings in 2020. It made no sense to alienate these influential wings of the RSS, at a time when bigwigs of the RSS were chiding the government to introspect on these laws.
In the end, the protests touched a chord in the heart of the Prime Minister. A very sensitive man, he has always lent himself to criticism and has always acted like a true statesman during such moments of crisis in the Parliament. It should consult the Opposition and all stakeholders before bringing forth any law. That alone will be a new opportunity to preserve democracy and can reaffirm its commitment to the vibrant democratic traditions of India.
(Views and opinions expressed are those of author)
Sauro Dasgupta is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He can be reached out via firstname.lastname@example.org.