After the repeal, a set of new questions
On Guru Nanak Jayanti, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi announced the repeal of all three farm laws. But this does not necessarily mean that there will be a happy ending immediately, going by a tweet from Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait. He said, “…the agitation will not be withdrawn immediately. We will wait for the day when farm laws will be repealed in Parliament. Along with MSP, the government should have also discussed other issues with farmers.” Other farm movement leaders have also expressed similar views. But how long will they drag out this agitation?
Then there is a question of how much this decision will affect the outcome of the forthcoming elections in several states. A large section of the agitating farmers come from Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh (UP) and the Terai region of Uttarakhand. Except for Haryana, there are assembly elections in these states early next year.
The agitation was a shot in the arm for the Opposition, something that it used to attack the image of the PM and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, this weapon seems to have been neutralised to an extent. The PM chose the occasion of Dev-Deepawali and Prakash Parv to announce what is a political message. The BJP and its allies now have enough time to make up for any loss caused by this agitation.
Let’s look at Punjab. Former chief minister (CM) Amarinder Singh’s credentials were suspect in the eyes of the Congress as he was considered to be close to Modi and Amit Shah. Now, an attempt will be made to present Amarinder Singh as a hero, the man whose initiatives resolved the agitation.
Amarinder Singh has no enmity with the Akalis either. Years ago, he was a minister in the Akali government led by Surjit Singh Barnala. He has good relations with the Badal family despite their political rivalry. Now, even the Akalis have no excuse to stay away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Will an alliance of the BJP, the Akalis and Amarinder Singh emerge as a new political force in Punjab? If this happens, there is bound to be a triangular fight. This will certainly pose a challenge for the Congress which is facing “anti-incumbency” and internal conflict, and the Aam Aadmi Party, which doesn’t have any major local political figure. Though Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal has denied the possibility of allying with the BJP after the repeal of the farm laws, political calculations could always change.
Similarly, there is a considerable presence of Sikh farmers in some areas of Uttarakhand and UP. The BJP will now woo them. In a small state such as Uttarakhand, where every seat is important, nine to 10 seats are in Sikh-dominated constituencies.
Similar efforts will also be made in the Jat-dominated areas of western UP. Chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath has already visited Kairana and met local traders who have been victims of extortion. The BJP had developed what came to be known as the “Muzaffarnagar model” with great care in 2013. It had a tremendous impact on the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019 as well as the assembly elections of 2017. This advantage was lost during the farmers’ agitation and now the BJP will try to restore old equations.
In spite of these political possibilities, will the pain of 11 months of struggle go away so quickly? According to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, over 700 farmers lost their lives during this agitation. Then, there were other terrible incidents such as Lakhimpur Kheri. It is certain that we will now hear a new war of words.
In Punjab and Uttarakhand, the Congress will try its best to take advantage of the repeal of the farm laws. Rahul Gandhi had all along maintained that the government would have to withdraw these laws. The rest of the Opposition will attempt to do the same in UP; they have close links with the farmers. An attempt will be made to send a message to them that though they have won the battle, it is time to push forth the rest of their demands. We may well see new issues and agitations emerging in UP and Uttarakhand.
But will these be successful? There has been no major mass movement in UP and Uttarakhand in the last five years. In UP, there is no serious resentment against Yogi Adityanath. However, crowds are increasing at Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav’s public meetings. His supporters say that he has got success to convert this electoral battle in a bipolar contest.The Bahujan Samaj Party may be playing the Brahmin card, but will it be able to expand its vote bank? Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi is trying to attract women voters. In the midst of all, will the PM’s announcement throw political equations out of kilter?
It will be interesting to see whether the Opposition succeeds in projecting the issue as the government’s defeat in the coming days or whether the ruling party manages to capitalise on it to its advantage. And the most important question is whether the farmers will benefit from this.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal