Poor electoral performance in the recent by-elections and diminishing prospects in the 2022 State-level Assembly elections, had made Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announce on Friday, the repeal of three controversial farm laws which had made farmers in North India agitate relentlessly for the past year, despite restrictions due to COVID.
The farm laws were meant to throw open agriculture to the corporate sector, do away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the traditional marketing system in the bid to modernize agriculture.
Conventionally, by-elections favor the ruling party unless there is severe disenchantment in the electorate. Such disenchantment against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showed up when results of three parliamentary constituencies and 29 State Assembly seats across 13 states came in recently.
The Wire reported that the BJP faced “humiliating defeats” in Himachal Pradesh, where full-scale elections are due in 2022. There was total rejection of the BJP in West Bengal and Rajasthan. Barring its performance in Assam, where the BJP and its allies won comprehensive victories in all the five assembly segments, gaining four of these from opposition parties, the BJP put up a lackluster show if compared to its past performances. The only seat where the BJP was able to displace a ruling party was Huzurabad in Telangana, the website said.
As for the Congress, it emerged stronger in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh and won tightly-contested elections in Madhya Pradesh, where although it managed to win only one of three seats, its 45.5% vote share was only 2% lower than the BJP’s, The Wire pointed out.
The Congress won the Deglur assembly seat in Maharashtra by a margin of around 42,000 votes. In Karnataka, it wrested the Hangal constituency from the BJP. In Rajasthan the Congress retained the Vallabhnagar seat and wrested the Dhariawad from the BJP. In Vallabhnagar, the BJP finished fourth while in Dhariawad, it was pushed to the third position.
The Congress swept the by-polls in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh. Pratibha Singh, the widow of former Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, defeated the BJP in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat by a little more than 7,000 votes. The Congress retained the Arki and Fatehpur seats.
The by-elections indicate that a substantial section of voters tend to prefer regional parties. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by the fiery Mamata Banerjee, scored big wins in all the four assembly seats of West Bengal. Not only did the TMC secure more than 75% votes in all the constituencies, but the other parties struggled to even save their deposit. The Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress registered an emphatic win in Andhra Pradesh, defeating the BJP by more than 90,000 votes. The Shiv Sena, too, registered a win in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, its first outside Maharashtra. The Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Chautala won the Ellenabad seat in Haryana by defeating the BJP in a closely-fought election. Chautala had resigned from the seat in support of the farmers’ protests earlier this year.
The BJP’s prospects in the 2022 State Assembly do not look bright as per a projection by ABP-CVoter survey. The survey shows that while the BJP will return to power in Uttar Pradesh, it might lose over 100 seats it won in the last State-level elections. In Punjab, the BJP and allies are expected to score zero. The contest here will be neck and neck between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress (INC).
Both Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are crucial for the BJP. While Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of legislative seats, Punjab has been the nerve center of the farmers’ agitation.
Repeal Sign of Weakness
Commenting on the repeal of the farm laws on Friday, the The Citizen said that what the PM has done so now is not being seen as “strength” but as a gesture arising out of “weakness” with an eye on the polls.
Election stunts are part of democracy, and politicians do kowtow to the wishes of their people to win elections “but not if the water under the bridge has turned into a flood,” The Citizen said.
The farmers have been asked to continue with the stir and in a politically nuanced approach. They now want the Prime Minister to get the repeal passed by parliament, and give a guarantee for Minimum Support Price.
“The government has been the first to blink, and actually give in, in what had become an eyeball to eyeball confrontation between the executive and India’s large farming community. The continuous multi-pronged attack on the farmers was designed to divide them through fear and terror, to break the back of the movement, but over these 12 months it has established itself as indeed a historic movement for the world to learn from.”
The number of farmers who had died in the year-long agitation varies between 600 and 740.
Over the last year, BJP leaders had been threating the farmers of dire consequences, describing them as agents of Pakistan and China, as Maoists, terrorists and Islamic Jehadis.
“I will take just two minutes to discipline you” thundered Union Minister Ajay Kumar Mishra. Protestors are “terrorists with Khalistani (Sikh separatist) flags” charged Jaskaur Meena, accusing the farmers of carrying AK-47s. “The demonstrations are led by Khalistanis and Maoists said” said Amit Malviya.
“Goons posing as farmers. They are Jehadis.” Said Y. Satya Kumar. They are Pakistanis following a well laid plan,” said Dushyant Kumar Gautam, BJP National General Secretary. They are the ‘Tukde-tukde gang’ ( gang which wants to break India into pieces) said Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. They are “Infiltrated by Leftists, Maoist elements” Union Minister Piyush Goyal said.
The Citizen’s commentary on repealing the laws pointed out that the media started blacking out the stir, and then became aggressive calling the farmers names and dubbing them anti-national.
“But the anger and frustration led the Sikh youth to start their own channels, their own media with ‘Trolley Times’ being a precursor. The farmers moved to occupy the social media, beating back allegations with videos and clips from the ground. The trolls were out to defame and humiliate them but despite this, the farmers managed an excellent counter offensive from scratch. The ‘Godi media’ (Lapdog media) was rejected by the farmers community and a new media run by them raised its head.”
“But the biggest contribution to the nation, for want of another term, has been unity. Farmers unity followed with peoples’ unity. The farmers reached out to all communities, bridges burnt in western UP were rebuilt as Jats and Muslims and Dalits held hands, and a new environment of harmony was deliberately and assiduously built. This hurt those seeking to divide communities for votes more than perhaps what people realized.”
“The ruling party members in the States were shunned, and in Haryana, even the Chief Minister was prevented by the farmers from holding meetings. It was clear that the politician in power does not understand India’s peasants, and completely underestimated their anger and their commitment. The government tried to beat them back, using verbal abuse and physical violence, but instead came up against a wall of non-violence, fortitude, wisdom and sheer perseverance, making this the biggest post-Independence movement in India.”