PM Modi showed magnanimity and political sagacity by withdrawing farm laws
Prime Minister Modi, in his address to the nation, announced the withdrawal of the three contentious farm laws and apologised to all those who had suffered because of the same. Farmers, basically from the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have been agitating for the past one year demanding the withdrawal of the three farm laws. The farmers have been organizing dharna on all the roads leading to the national capital, Delhi and repeated attempts by the central government to resolve the issue amicably failed to bear any fruit as the farmers wanted the rescinding of the three farm laws as a precondition for any fruitful talks to solve the problems faced by the farmers.
Although the operation of these farm laws were put on hold by the apex court long ago but that did not lead to any reconciliation between the government and the agitating farmers. The government always maintained that it is willing to discuss everything except scrapping of the three farm laws. It seemed that the government was in no mood to take back these farm laws ,come what may. From time to time, those in favor of these farm laws argued that the reforms driven image of the Modi government will take a beating if it succumbs to the pressure mounted by agitating farmers. It was also said that these farm laws were going to revolutionize the Agri sector and benefit the farmers immensely. But the agitating farmers were not convinced and presented their side quite forcefully resulting in a long stalemate between the two sides. Finally today the PM announced the withdrawal of the three farm laws and said that although his government had promulgated the farm laws only in the interest of farmers and he sincerely believed that these laws were going to change farmers lives for the better but unfortunately the government failed to convince the farmers community at large regarding the benefits of the these farm laws. In his address, he apologised to all those who suffered due to this. He also announced setting up of a committee consisting of the representatives of central government, state governments, agriculture experts, farmers representatives etc to look into the other specific issues raised by the farmers. He promised the farmers that he will do everything possible to make their lives better and prosperous.
Undoubtedly the central government had been debating, for decades, to address some of the core issues concerning the farm sector and many committees and Agri experts had made recommendations along the lines of the three contentious farm laws. There are many who want more policy reforms to liberalize the farm produce marketing sector further but there are many who argue for "no entry" for corporations. Policy framing in any sector has to balance between the two competing demands with primacy on growth and prosperity. But when a vocal section of the population expresses serious reservations about any policy initiative and goes on agitating unrelentingly for months, the government has to heed the voices emanating from protest sites.
Democracy is all about elected governments bowing down to people’s wishes and in that sense the decision taken by PM Modi is praiseworthy as he openly acknowledged the fact that farmers were not convinced by the arguments put forth by his government. Hence he bowed to the wishes of the people and has withdrawn the three farm laws.
In any parliamentary democracy, every political outfit always takes decisions with an eyes on electoral gains. The same logic is behind the withdrawal of the farm laws. With elections looming large on the horizon in important states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand etc, the cost-benefit analysis of the decisions had to be worked out by the Modi government. So political compulsions must have played a major role in this decision. This decision is going to pay dividends in these important states going to polls and will lead to realignment of various parties in the fray. In Punjab, this will remove the main irritant between the two oldest allies and has the potential of changing the electoral prospects of contesting parties.
There is a lesson to be learned from this for all political dispensations. Nothing is above the people’s will and decision makers should always keep their eyes and ears open to listen to the masses. No policy description is sacrosanct and experts advice should always be weighed against people’s perception. In this regard, it can be said that the Prime Minister acted wisely in not only bowing to the people’s wishes but also acted magnanimously by apologising to those who suffered because of this decision. Those who show the courage to accept mistakes and make corrections need to be applauded- irrespective of the reason behind their actions. Magnanimity is what is needed in every public authority universally.
The author is former fertiliser secretary, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.