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Analysis: Decision seen as fallout of farmers’ protests in poll-bound U.P., Punjab

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Pragmatic turn unusual for government that has taken tough decisions but assessment shows it is not so

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of withdrawing the three contentious farm laws is being seen as a natural fallout of the traction that protests by farmers’ groups against them have had in the States going to the polls in early 2022, especially Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

Also read | Repeal of farm laws live updates

U.P. calculus

BJP leaders from western U.P., speaking to The Hindu, observed that while the specifics of the laws did not affect farmers in the area, there was a “shared sense of grievance in terms of low returns on agriculture and soaring electricity bills.”

“While the State government did increase the procurement price of sugar cane [the main crop in the region], it was ₹10 less per hectare than what was demanded. Also, what happened in Lakhimpur Kheri has also had a negative impact. The impending alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) would have been formidable if the issue of farmers’ protests had not been resolved,” said a senior Union Minister.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah is due to visit western U.P. in the next couple of weeks to hold a series of meetings with booth in charges of the BJP in the area, alluding to the fact that the area was a pain point as far as the State campaign went.

Punjab polls

In Punjab, the BJP is going to the polls on its own after decades, after the break-up of the alliance with the Akali Dal, and while the party claims support among the urban populace and largely Hindu sections, leaders of the party found it difficult to travel for campaign in the face of opposition organised by farmers’ groups.

The party also found that it could not take advantage of the fact that former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh (retired) had announced the formation of a party after his exit from the Congress.

Any alliance, both sides maintained, would be advantageous only when the farmers’ issue is resolved, as any association with the BJP without it was considered tainted with an anti-farmer hue.

The fact that the Prime Minister announced the repeal of the laws on GurpurabPrakash utsav of Guru Nanak Dev, also points to the fact that the movement, largely led by Sikh farmers in Punjab had led to a situation where the BJP appeared at odds with the Sikh community, despite the long alliance between the BJP and the orthodox Akali Dal. This repeal, it is hoped will put the clock back on this feeling of estrangement.

Security concerns

It was also felt by the security establishment that the long-running protests would be used by Khalistani elements to infiltrate the crowd and hijack the basic demands of the protesters into religious polarisation. “Punjab is a border State and concerns were raised at the highest levels that the protests could willy-nilly be infiltrated,” said a senior source in the government. “Security concerns were prioritised,” he added.

The Centre’s climbdown on the farm laws is being likened to its repeal of the Land Acquisition Ordinance in 2015, after sustained protests against it, and a sign that the government remains politically pragmatic, constantly evaluating the fallout, in political and electoral terms, of its policies.

For a government that took many tough decisions, including demonetisation in 2016 and the reading down of Article 370 in 2019, this pragmatic turn is seen as a bit of a departure but a realistic assessment shows that it is not so.

Pragmatism

Even when it came to tweaking the Goods and Services Tax (GST) compliance and rates, the Gujarat polls in 2017 and the anger of traders in Surat had proven to be effective deterrents. Interestingly, this pragmatism was explained by a Chief Minister of a BJP-ruled State in 2015 after a meeting of Chief Ministers on the Land Acquisition Ordinance.

“The Pandavas, during their feud with the Kauravas, had to endure a year of agyaatvaas [incognito], during which time even they served in the royal household of King Viraata of Matsyadesh, even though to act as such was against their royal character, because the situation demanded a strategic retreat in the larger interests of regaining their kingdom,” he had stated.

The same principle seems to be now in play in the battle for Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, results of which will directly affect the mood of the Opposition ahead of next general election in 2024.



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