Those who say the decision is driven by political considerations are missing the central point that the BJP has never been politically strong enough to stake political power in Punjab.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to repeal the three farm laws and his apology to the nation that he could not make a section of farmers understand the merits of the laws reflect the greatness of the man who is ready to drink the poison so that the society can move forward without conflict and the nation can stay united.
Those who say the decision is driven by political considerations are missing the central point that the BJP has never been politically strong enough to stake political power in Punjab. Those who supported the farm laws are feeling peeved. But they should contemplate why the Prime Minister who defended the laws to the hilt have decided to withdraw.
Modi did not blame the party or his ministerial colleagues, vested interests or the Opposition parties. He, in fact, thanked all those who supported the legislations and took the entire onus on himself for failures. He appealed to agitating farmers to go back home to their fields and families and make a fresh beginning.
It needs a lot of guts and a great spiritual power to concede grounds when everyone thought the agitating farmers were losing out and getting exposed. We should not forget how the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government dealt with Baba Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan during the midnight crackdown in 2011 on innocent men and women who were there to support Baba Ramdev’s agitation against corruption.
In the case of farmers’ agitation, the Modi government dealt with using velvet gloves even when the most provocative act of insulting the National Flag at Red Fort was witnessed. Even when the agitation disrupted public life by squatting on national highways, they were allowed to stage dharna.
This is essentially because the Prime Minister is a democrat who does not believe in using state power on innocent citizens. He had witnessed atrocities of state machinery during Emergency (1975-77) and he would never do anything to thwart the democratic process.
He realised that a section of the farming community was not ready to listen to any argument. Their main agenda was to create chaos which could spillover to other sections of the society. In such a situation it is always better for democracy and the society to pull back and allow normalcy to prevail.
Reforms are a tedious process. Ideas that have governed for centuries take time to change. And more important than pushing reforms is securing unity of people and preventing divisions that could lead to long-term problems of integration. Punjab has suffered a lot, first by militancy and then by the drug menace. Vested interests are ready to use any fissure to widen the gulf. Captain Amarinder Singh had already spoken about alienation of the youths that could take an ugly turn.
It is not that this would lessen the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm to work for uplift of the farming community. The Modi government should be credited with increasing expenditure on agriculture with the sole aim of making the activity productive and profitable. Fragmentation of agriculture holding has increased the number of small and marginal farmers. He has been advocating scientific agriculture to help these farmers besides giving money directly into their account. Already more than Rs 1.62 lakh crore have been transferred into the accounts of more than 10 crore farmers.
His commitment to improving the farming community is evident in the announcement of a committee that would look into all aspects of farming such as Zero Budget agriculture (to encourage organic farming), scientific agriculture through changing crop patterns, and to make the MSP more effective and transparent. This committee would have representations of the Central government, the state governments, farmers and experts. He said that he was working with all sincerity and would continue to do so in future too.
People of this country trust the Prime Minister’s honesty and sincerity of purpose and action. The farming community in Punjab also appeared happy. Captain Amarinder Singh struck the right note by lauding Modi’s action. But the Opposition tried to score brownie points by saying that this was due to political compulsions in the context of impending Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.
Let us have a reality check. Real narrative is always different from what the Opposition will try to paint to suit its narrative. Despite the anti-farm law agitation, the BJP has been doing well electorally. The party won in Assam where 86 per cent of the population live in rural areas and the state has an adverse demography from the BJP’s electoral perspective. The party won 77 Assembly seats in West Bengal and became the main Opposition. In Puducherry, the BJP won substantial seats to become a part of the government. The party has been winning civic and local polls and has done remarkably well in bypolls too.
Those who talk of the BJP fearing electoral fortunes in Punjab should not lull themselves into political forgetfulness. The BJP was not a major player in the state and it preferred to align with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the state rather than trying to chart out an independent existence. This was aimed at forging Hindu-Sikh unity which had developed cracks due to Sikh militancy in the form of Khalistan movement. The BJP never allowed its political ambition to damage this chemistry. To say that the party would not understand and appreciate the sensitivities in Punjab and would be guided by politics is untruth.
Parties like the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu can be blinded by their political aspirations. While Kejriwal won’t mind hobnobbing with Bababr Khalsa group and Sidhu would love to embrace Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, nothing like that is expected from those who think of unity and integrity of Punjab. Those who have seen militancy in Punjab in the 1980s are too scared of political instability in the state.
Politics is not the reason for Modi’s decision to withdraw the legislations. A Prime Minister who can teach Pakistan a lesson by launching surgical strikes and air strikes should not be challenged as being weak. He is governed only by national interest. Not that he has changed his heart or arguments on the farm legislations. It is just that conceding some grounds may help the country’s larger interest be managed much better.
The Prime Minister ended his historic speech on Friday morning by chanting a line from the Shabad (hymn) of the Sikh Guru, Guru Govind Singh, which reads: “Deh Siva bar mohe eh-hey subh karman te kabhu na taro…” (Seeks the blessings of the Goddess that one may not hesitate from performing good actions). Modi sought God’s blessing to perform the good work with honest intentions so that he does not get deviated from the path of working for the welfare of his people. Such a statement can come only from a person who is highly spiritual, is above self and is not fearful of results.
The writer is the convener of the media relations department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.