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Modi’s unexpected retreat

Noor ul ain Kaludi

24th Nov, 2021. 04:59 pm

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech announcing his intention to repeal three controversial farming laws was interesting, to say the least. Firstly, the apology was geared towards his countrymen, and not the farmers that would have been affected by the implementation of the pro-corporate laws. It was clear that Modi did not take the laws back after some divine revelation making him sympathetic to the farmers’ plight. It is clear that a political play is behind his sudden decision, as it is with his every move.

The upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, both states with a majority population of farmers, likely pushed his hand. Modi had previously tried to sate the farmers by suggesting to move the laws back a few years, but it was only a ploy to use an unpleasant situation to his benefit after the laws were stayed by the Parliament. The BJP has alienated a large part of the population with their jingoistic stance, albeit unconsciously, and it is imperative for the party to keep the voters happy with the upcoming elections so close. A clash which resulted in multiple deaths, in which a BJP member’s son was involved, furthered the animosity and put the party’s future in UP in danger.

This does not mean that they’re willing to give up. Modi is still adamant that the laws will benefit the farmers, and BJP members have stated that bringing them back is just a matter of time. According to some people, the laws were meant to catapult India’s farming industry into modernization, and the plan is still in motion.

The agricultural reforms have been dubbed the “black laws” by the farmers, who feared for the safety of their livelihoods. Under current laws, farmers sell their goods in government-enabled mandis (markets) which ensure protection against a free market system and keeps the farmers incentivized. The laws if implemented, would allow private buyers to deal with the farmers directly, jawboning them into making disadvantageous deals that would leave the farmers to fend for themselves against powerful conglomerates.

Modi’s cabinet hurriedly introduced the laws in June 2020. The issue escalated in September when the Parliament passed the Bills, despite protests from the opposition. Farmers then came out in huge numbers to protect their community’s economic interests. After more than a year of protests, and unproductive talks between the government and farming union leaders, the Prime Minister’s decision seemingly came out of nowhere. The announcement is a pleasant surprise, which are quite rare to come by these days, especially when authoritarian politicians like Modi are involved. However, it seems that the farmers have been successful, and their struggle has borne fruit.

The farmers’ success is a testament to their strength and a reflection of the philosophy of Sikhism, which promotes the value of the community’s interests over the individual’s interests. The farmers stuck to their cause for more than a year, and braved the elements, as well as a deadly Covid wave early in the year, while camping on roads. Figures such as Greta Thunberg and Rihanna brought further traction to the movement when they supported the farmers on social media, and the Sikh diaspora around the world provided both monetary and moral support to their Indian brothers.

In two separate clashes, violence ensued and lives were lost. Discontent brewed, but the farmers remained peaceful even after they were attacked both physically, and psychologically by being branded “anti-state”, “Khalistanis” and “terrorists”. More than 700 lives were lost during the year-long protests at the outskirts of Delhi, where now a shantytown of sorts has crept up around the protestors.

Their strong sense of community also shows in the fact that they did not take the easy way out by yielding to verbal promises, and are still waiting in their camps on the outskirts of the capital, to see the Prime Minister’s promise of repealing the laws through to the end. The farmers have in fact decided to use this newfound power for the benefit of their community. They have refused to budge and are demanding surety of a minimum support price (MSP), which Modi conveniently did not mention at all in his grand speech. The MSP is a security blanket for the farming community in India, without which they would be rendered quite helpless.

The roots of this issue go back decades. Following an acute shortage of food in the 1960s, the Indian government passed a bunch of laws that incentivized growing staples such as wheat and rice, and created government-run markets that provide subsidies to the farmers, in order to ensure a profit for them. The system, however, is yet to be updated in the decades since then, and India’s farming industry has felt the ripples.

The victory against these laws won’t be enough to fix the glaring flaws in the country’s broken farming system, and there is a lot of room for growth there. As has been pointed out before, change cannot come through force and from shoehorning the farming community in a country where more than half the population relies on the land for their livelihood.

It remains to be seen whether Modi fulfills his promise. No matter which way the pendulum moves now, the event will go down in history as the defeat of a powerful government that could not crush the power of the common man, or pit them against each other or intimidate them. Sometimes, the fight against oppression is won with blood and sweat of soldiers, and at other times with peaceful protests. The farmers’ success is proof of the latter.



The writer is Sub-Editor, Bol News

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