‘Repeal of farm laws a win for opposition’: Jayant Chaudhary

Updated on Nov 20, 2021 02:15 AM IST

Farmers have shown a lot of courage by asking some hard questions to the government throughout the last year, he said.

Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary. (HT File Photo)
Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary. (HT File Photo)

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to repeal the farm laws, many linked the move to attempts to reduce the impact of the farmer agitation against the legislation on assembly elections in states such as Uttar Pradesh. Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)’s Jayant Chaudhary, an opposition leader from Western Uttar Pradesh where the farmers play a key role in electoral outcomes, spoke to Sunetra Choudhury about the impact of the move. Edited excerpts:

How do you respond to the decision?

It is a good development for the farming community. They have shown a lot of courage by asking some hard questions to the government throughout the last year in a very disciplined and sustained agitation. So, it does send a message to the farmers that in a democracy they are entitled to agitate. They are well within their rights to demand. This is a moment of reflection for all of those who kept claiming that the laws are in favour of the agricultural sector and farmers because today after a year, the government has retraced its steps under widespread agitation.

Many say it is not about Punjab, but Western Uttar Pradesh that forced the government’s hand...

I think it was a very pervasive issue. The emotional connect is there with every family, every household in Uttar Pradesh, not just western Uttar Pradesh. At a larger level, throughout the country, people were watching the outcome of this. So, I think yes, it is feedback which has reached the highest level of the government and has caused this delayed reaction. There is no doubt.

What do you think the impact is going to be?

Uttar Pradesh elections are very important for the nation’s politics. They will send a message for what is to come in 2024 (national polls) and of course we are talking about India’s largest state. ...our nation’s trajectory is decided by the voters of Uttar Pradesh. The message has reached people that somewhere Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s thinking was wrong. They do not have an affinity with the farmers. The minister from Uttar Pradesh (Ajay Mishra whose son is an accused in the violence that was triggered after a car ran over protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri ) is still a member of the Cabinet. The farmer distress, sugar cane dues or price rise, electricity or diesel costs or the unavailability of fertilisers, the issue of MSP (minimum support prices remain). Paddy has been procured at less than half of what the MSP is. So, these issues do remain. So, in a sense, they are trying to do some damage control but it is not going to give them a victory. I think the momentum is with the opposition and the people who have been very aggressive. RLD has its own role in taking the message of the farmers to other parts. I think today’s decision is going to help us.

Do you think this will help the BJP regain the lost ground?

It will actually help us. This is a hard-fought win and I think today all those who were associated with the agitation feel vindicated. It is going to aid us, not them. It is a win for the opposition. All those who opposed these laws, all those who stood on the streets for one year, all those who expressed solidarity with the farmers, it is their victory.

Will it help the opposition electorally and will they come together to reap the benefits?

We were working on creating a viable alternative to the BJP and a strong opposition platform. We will go forward in that direction. BJP’s propaganda will now try and spin it. They will say that when the laws were there, it was supposed to help the BJP to win over the farmers because it was such a massive reform. Now, when the laws are not there, they are saying it is a win for BJP. They have had to submit to popular opinion. Within the opposition, Samajwadi Party has a credible base across the state. We are in conversation with them.

How will you pivot your messaging right now?

These laws were not going to solve any problems for the farmers. They in fact created problems. Over the last one year, people have had to suffer because of these laws. Now that they have been taken back, it is not going to bring some great gift either. In a sense, we have lost one year. One year of failed reforms, of failed policies, the distress has not been alleviated. Those are the issues we will take to the people.

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    Sunetra Choudhury is the National Political Editor of the Hindustan Times. With over two decades of experience in print and television, she has authored Black Warrant (Roli,2019), Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous (Roli,2017) and Braking News (Hachette, 2010). Sunetra is the recipient of the Red Ink award in journalism in 2016 and Mary Morgan Hewett award in 2018.

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