Farm laws repeal and poll strategies

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Until the other day, we thought Prime Minister Narendra Modi could never budge, at least not on the farm laws. However, given the recent political compulsions, he was left with no other option than to roll back the three contentious laws. It seems that the BJP learned the lesson that whenever political opposition and mass movements come together, it impacts politics, the hard way. As a shrewd politician, he chose to retreat. In his national television address on Friday he apologized, “Today, I beg the forgiveness of my countrymen and say with a pure heart and honest mind that perhaps there was some shortcoming.” This was rather a surprise move which probably nobody was expecting – not the farmers, devotees, or even his opponents. And just like that, Modi took away the central issue of attack from the opposition in the upcoming Parliament session and even the assembly polls to seven states.

Modi’s followers were the most confused as they had been so ardently defending the farm laws with such fervor. They almost felt betrayed by their leader’s u-turn. But Modi knows what he’s doing even at the cost of weakening his image. The rollback has won him laurels and brickbats. The pro-reform lobby in India and abroad is stunned by Modi’s climb down as they apprehend that it will halt the reform process, which would have brought new technology and investment. They were banking on Modi that he would initiate reform, particularly in labor and agriculture. On the other hand, the pro-farmer lobby is delighted at the victory of the farmers, who ran their protests for a year bearing cold and heat and also covid. Incidentally, the same rollback could result in a change of poll strategy for all parties. The BJP is ruling in Manipur, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat, and the Congress is ruling only in Punjab. Winning Uttar Pradesh is crucial for the BJP. The party is happy that the opposition is not united and has started intensifying the campaign and activating the party machinery. The reaction from the opposition is interesting. The Congress is beating its chest on the vision of Rahul Gandhi, who predicted that Modi has to repeal the farm laws. But winning the poll-bound states is tough without a strong organization.

The Congress could have won – Punjab easily, but the Gandhi siblings have messed up the whole thing by getting rid of Captain Amarinder Singh last month. Captain has floated his party and is getting ready for an alliance with the BJP. The Captain might not win the polls, but he could damage the Congress. The rise of the Aam Admi Party is also a worry. Meanwhile, Gujarat, the home state of both the Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah, has already seen a change of chief minister, but still lacks a solid chief ministerial face. Adding to the woes, the farm unions have decided to continue their stir and demand a constitutional guarantee on Minimum Support Prices, repeal of the electricity law, and action against those behind the Lakhimpur Kheri killings. They also demand compensation for the six hundred and odd farmers who died in this struggle. Will the government yield in all these issues? It will be an interesting watch.

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