New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday announced that the three contentious farm laws which were introduced last year will be repealed. The announcement comes after year-long protests by farmers across the country.
This is the second time that the Modi government has rolled back a bill ahead of assembly elections.
The last time the government had to back down on reform was during its first term in office, when the PM announced that an ordinance promulgated to make amendments to a land acquisition act brought in by the previous UPA government would be withdrawn.
While the land acquisition ordinance was allowed to lapse by the Modi government two months before the 2015 Bihar elections, the farm laws have been rolled back ahead of 2022 assembly polls in five states — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. The farm laws and subsequent protests were expected to be a major electoral issue in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
Parallels to 2015
In August 2015, PM Modi had announced the government’s decision to let the land acquisition ordinance lapse during his radio address ‘Mann Ki Baat‘. However, while stating that the government will no longer push for the amendments to the Act, the PM had said it was because fear was instilled among farmers by opposition parties and state governments.
“I want to tell all my farmer brothers and sisters that the request to reform the Land Acquisition Act was raised by the states very emphatically, and hence this reformed proposal was introduced. But I saw how the farmers were being misled and a fear psychosis created,” Modi had said, adding that the amendments were sought by the state governments.
At the time, Opposition parties had vehemently criticised the amendments, calling them “anti-poor”.
The ordinance that was introduced to make amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, 2013, gave the central government the power to forego social impact and public purpose assessments while acquiring land for certain kinds of government projects.
However, the government’s bid to remove the “consent” clause from the 2013 Act, which stated that consent of 70 per cent landowners was required for Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects and 80 per cent for private projects, was criticised by the Opposition parties, who said the Centre was only “working for the rich”.
It is during this time that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was then the party vice president, made his famous “suit-boot ki sarkaar” (government of rich people) remark against the Modi government.
“Your government is the government of industrialists. Your government is a government of big people. Suit-boot ki sarkaar hai. On one hand you are weakening farmers and labourers, and when they are able to stand on their feet, you will hit them with the axe of your Ordinance,” Gandhi had said in April 2015 while intervening on a discussion in Parliament on agrarian issues.
This time around, however, while the Opposition pitch remained the same, Modi has asserted the decision to repeal the farm laws is not due to Opposition pressure but due to a lack of consensus between the farmers and the government.
“Today, I apologise if some farmers did not understand our pure intention and what we wanted to do through the farm laws,” Modi said while announcing that the laws will be repealed in the Winter Session of Parliament, scheduled to begin near the end of November.
Since the protests began, multiple dialogues that were initiated between farmers’ groups and the Modi government yielded no result.
Many BJP leaders also said a Khalistani agenda is being propagated under the garb of farm protests.
In the process, the BJP also lost its long-term ally in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which refused to support the laws.
A more recent flashpoint came in the form of an incident in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri in October this year, where eight people, including four farmers demonstrating at a protest site and a journalist, were mowed down by a convoy of cars, one of which allegedly belonging to the son of a Union minister. Two BJP workers and the driver of one of the cars also died in the violence that ensued.
‘Arrogant had to bow down, farmers have won’
Opposition parties who had lent support to the farmers’ movement since it began claimed moral victory after the PM’s announcement, but questioned the timing of the move and asked if those responsible for the death of over 600 people during the protests will be punished by law.
“The satyagraha by those who feed the country has caused the arrogant to bow down,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
देश के अन्नदाता ने सत्याग्रह से अहंकार का सर झुका दिया।
अन्याय के खिलाफ़ ये जीत मुबारक हो!
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 19, 2021
“Whether it was fear of losing UP or finally facing up to conscience, BJP govt rolls back farm laws,” tweeted Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra.
Whether it was fear of losing UP or finally facing up to conscience @BJP govt rolls back farm laws.
Just the beginning of many more victories for people’s voices.
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) November 19, 2021
“I was on the streets in support of the farmers right after the results of the Bihar elections were announced. The anti-farmer Nitish-BJP government had filed a case against me for supporting farmers. The farmers have won,” tweeted RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the opposition in Bihar.
Samajwadi Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said the BJP repealed the farm laws as it “got scared of the SP’s imminent victory in Purvanchal”.
“The BJP, a party of the rich, had tried to cheat the poor and the farmers with the Land Acquisition Act and the black farm laws. They planted nails, made cartoons where they were shown dragging us by the hair, even mowed down farmers with a jeep, but the BJP got scared of the SP’s imminent victory in Purvanchal and repealed the farm laws. The BJP must answer when those responsible for the deaths of hundreds of farmers will be punished,” he tweeted.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)