Can the pain of 11 months of the farmers’ agitation be healed with a single stroke?
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a big message on Guru Nanak Jayanti by announcing the repeal of all three farm laws. Will this announcement prove to be a happy ending to the 11-month-old agitation? To answer this question, look at this tweet by Rakesh Tikait: “The agitation will not be withdrawn immediately. We will wait for the day when farm laws will be repealed in Parliament.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."
Not only Tikait but also some other farmers’ leaders have expressed such views. Hasn’t this announcement terminated the core issue? How long will the farmers’ leaders be able to drag this agitation? Then there is a question of how much this decision will affect the outcome of the forthcoming elections. Everyone knows that a large section of the agitating farmers come from Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and the Terai region of Uttarakhand. Except for Haryana, there are Assembly elections in these states early next year.
The farmers’ agitation was a sudden shot in the arm for the opposition. They were using it to demolish the image of Modi and the fortress of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hasn’t this weapon been taken away from them, now? The prime minister chose the occasion of Dev-Deepawali and Prakash Parv to announce this political message. Modi knows religious beliefs act as a healing touch on old wounds. The BJP and its allies have enough time to make up for the loss caused by this agitation.
Let’s start with Punjab. The biggest drawback with Amarinder Singh’s popularity was that he, despite being the chief minister of the Congress, was considered to be close to Modi and Amit Shah. As the anger of the farmers of Punjab was growing towards Delhi, Amarinder Singh’s reputation started to fade. His troubles in the Congress also started because of this. Now an attempt will be made to present him as a hero. His supporters will say that this happened because of the initiative taken by him.
It should also be noted that Amarinder Singh has no enmity with the Akalis either. Years ago, he had been a minister in the Akali government led by Surjit Singh Barnala. He has good relations with the Badal family despite the political rivalry. Now even the Akalis have no excuse to stay away from the National Democratic Alliance. Will the BJP, Akali and Amarinder alliance emerge like a new political force in Punjab? Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has denied any possibility of alliance, but denials have limited age in modern politics. If this alignment emerges, there is bound to be a triangular fight. This will certainly be challenging for the Congress, which is already facing “anti-incumbency" and internal conflict, and the Aam Aadmi Party, which does not have any major local political figure. Badal has denied the possibility of allying with the BJP after the repeal of the three farm laws, but this was his immediate reaction and it might change following political calculations.
Similarly, there is an impressive presence of Sikh farmers in certain areas of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The BJP now has enough grounds to get close to them. In a small state like Uttarakhand, where every seat is important, 9-10 seats are dominated by Sikh voters. Similar efforts will also be made in Jat-dominated areas of western Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath has already visited Kairana and met the local traders suffering from extortion. The BJP had developed 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 and also in the Assembly elections of 2017. However, during the farmers’ agitation, the BJP lost all the love of the past eight years. Now the BJP will try to restore the old equations.
Despite these political possibilities, some lingering questions remain. Will this pain of 11 months of struggle go away with a single stroke? Will the opposition really lose out on this issue? According to the Kisan Ekta Morcha, about 600 farmers lost their lives during this agitation. Incidents such as the one in Lakhimpur Kheri also happened. Will the grief of the families of those victims end? There will surely be a new war of words in the coming days.
In Punjab and Uttarakhand, the Congress will try its best to take advantage of the repeal of farm laws. Rahul Gandhi used to say that the government will have to withdraw these laws. The entire opposition in Uttar Pradesh would also do the same. The opposition parties of Uttar Pradesh are closely related to the farmers. An attempt will be made to send a message across that you have won a battle, now is the time to come forward with the rest of your demands. We might see some new issues and agitations emerging in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
How successful will these attempts be? There has been no major mass movement in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the past five years. The opposition has been accused of rhetoric on Twitter, instead of going to the grassroots level.
In Uttar Pradesh, there is no serious resentment against Yogi Adityanath. Despite this, crowds are increasing in the public meetings of Akhilesh Yadav. He was considered successful in making this election bipolar. For this reason, questions were being raised that despite the slogans raised for Brahmins, will the Bahujan Samaj Party fail to expand its original vote bank? Priyanka Gandhi is also trying to attract female voters. Where will it lead? In the midst of this political debate, will this announcement of the prime minister be able to give a new twist to the equation? 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 capitalize on it more than its opponents.
Beyond all this noise, there is also a question that has been waiting for an answer for decades: when and how will the condition of the sons of the soil improve?
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.