Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Kutch on Tuesday, in which he spoke of “a great conspiracy to mislead farmers, in and around Delhi”, can be said to mark a new stage in the agitation of farmers of North India, in the vanguard of which are Punjab farmers. This stage bespeaks the hardening of the government’s stand against the farmers knocking on the doors of the nation’s capital for the past 20 days.
After six rounds of dialogue between the government and the farmers’ representatives, including a session with Union home minister Amit Shah, the food growers maintain their opposition to the three controversial agri-laws, passed in controversial circumstances last September. The government is just as adamant and will not agree to their repeal, the farmers’ key demand. The farmers have rejected the government’s implied offer of amending specific sections of the three laws if farmers can pinpoint them.
In Parliament, and in various statements made by the government’s representatives outside the legislature, not excluding the remarks of the PM at various forums, the government is yet to cogently explain to the need for the laws that have created a storm, other than to say that these represent much-needed “reform” that will benefit farmers and the farm sector, and will not leave them worse off. The agriculturists are not persuaded, however. The government’s bland assurances have done nothing to reassure farmers that the real reason for these “reforms” was to not to benefit big industry, rather than the owners of farmland.
Ironically, even as Mr Modi attacked the Opposition parties — and when he does that he specifically means the Congress since he says “they” were unable to bring reforms when in power — the real attack on the government has come from Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal on the same day that the PM was accusing the opposition of misleading farmers and playing politics in the guise of backing farmers. The Akalis depend principally on the votes of agriculturists.
Such was the force of the Dal’s opposition to the three farm laws that its announcement of leaving the Narendra Modi government came on the floor of the Lok Sabha, in the course of the discussion on the controversial farm laws. Subsequently, the Punjab party left the ruling alliance. Therefore, the notion of innocent farmers being “misled” by the Opposition — assiduously propagated by the government and the BJP — does not square with the facts. In the first instance, this opposition to the agri-laws came from the Akali Dal when it was a member of the ruling NDA until three months ago. This was clearly a case of opposition from within.
In a newspaper interview, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the BJP under Mr Modi came back with an increased majority in 2019 because of the “transformative” policies of demonetisation and GST. The extremely negative economic effects of these policies did not concern him and he equated more seats in Parliament with approval of these policies by the people. In the same way, he noted, the farm laws, that have triggered a tsunami of protest, will also be backed by the electorate.
The farmers seem to be up against the strength of ideology rather than economic logic.