November 19, 2021 12:35 PM
New Delhi: Three controversial farm laws at the heart of massive farmer protests across the country for over a year will be withdrawn, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today in a stunning announcement just months before elections in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
The announcement came on the Guru Purab festival, when Sikhism founder Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated across India, mainly in Punjab, where elections will be held in three months.
“Maybe something was lacking in our tapasya (efforts), which is why we could not convince some farmers about the laws. But today is Prakash Parv, not the time to blame anyone. Today, I want to tell the country that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws,” PM Modi said in an address to the nation.
“In the Parliament session starting in the end of this month, we will complete the process of repealing the three laws,” he said.
The Prime Minister began with a defence of the laws saying they were meant as reforms, mainly for small and marginal farmers in the country. But some farmers were convinced, others were not, he admitted.
“Whatever I did was for farmers. What I am doing is for the country.”
Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have been camping outside Delhi since November 2020, demanding that the “black laws” be withdrawn. The BJP has faced massive anger in northern states, something it cannot afford as it preps for big elections ahead, including the 2024 national polls.
Rakesh Tikait, a top farmer leader, said the protests would not stop before the laws were repealed in the session starting on November 29.
The farmer protests were unrelenting through several rounds of talks between the government and farmers, disruptions in parliament and Supreme Court hearings.
“We haven’t been able to convince farmers. Only a section of them was opposing the laws, but we kept trying to educate and inform them,” PM Modi said.
The opposition and farmers had accused the government of railroading the three laws without much discussion in parliament. The government said the laws would remove middlemen and improve farmers’ earnings by allowing them to sell anywhere in the country. Farmer unions argued that the laws would expose them to unfair competition, leave them at the mercy of corporates and deprive them of the guaranteed price for their produce.
The sensational rollback is politically expedient for the BJP as it seeks re-election in Uttar Pradesh, a big decider ahead of 2024.
The farmer protests in western Uttar Pradesh would have hurt the BJP’s re-election fight, believed party leaders.
The increasing frequency of visits to UP by the Prime Minister and other big leaders like Amit Shahs reflect the party’s focus on retaining the politically vital UP.
Right after his address, PM Modi was to head to Uttar Pradesh again to launch a series of schemes.
Many also perceive this as a masterstroke when it comes to Punjab, a state where the BJP has been reduced to a minor player after long-time ally Akali Dal broke ties over the farm laws.
The PM’s move may tip the balance in Punjab, where the ruling Congress faces a challenge from its own former leader, Amarinder Singh. Amarinder Singh, forced to quit as Chief Minister in September, held talks with the BJP soon after. Cancelling the farm laws was reportedly a condition that Mr Singh had for a tie-up with the BJP.