Public support is fickle: BJP should reach out to the farmers
Cricket has been described as a game of uncertainties and surprises, but it should be noted that the same is true of politics
Cricket has been described as a game of uncertainties and surprises, but it should be noted that the same is true of politics. A surprise was offered when the union government decided to hold elections for District Developmental Councils in Jammu and Kashmir - a state which had witnessed uneasy times after abrogation of the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave it a special status. So was it ready for a democratic experiment? It was followed by a second surprise when elections turned out to be free.
There were more surprises in store as the voters turnout was reasonable indicating people were keen to exercise their right to vote. Election results were on expected lines. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored in the Jammu region and Gupkar alliance, which included two regional parties the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won a majority in the Kashmir region. The surprise, however, was the Apni Party, which was considered to be close to the BJP. It has also won the chairmanship of two important councils Srinagar and Shopian. It is alleged that district officials helped it by persuading members to either abstain or vote against the party with whose support they were elected.
This should not be a surprise as elected members of assemblies in various states have been crossing over to the BJP leading to the toppling of governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. In Gujarat, it helped BJP to win elections of its nominees to Rajya Sabha. How can Jammu and Kashmir be different where members in the past also changed sides leading to the fall of governments? The lesson is obvious - the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir has overcome the problems created by the abrogation of Article 370 giving special status to the erstwhil state.
Yet another surprise is the continuation of farmers agitation against the controversial farm laws. It was thought that the agitation has suffered a serious blow after the violence witnessed during the tractor march on January 26 when a section of the agitators went to Red Fort and planted a religious flag. The manner in which police barriers were smashed and protesters indulged in violence gave official agencies opportunity to defame the peaceful protest of over two months and to take action.
Direct talks required
The protesters, however, have overcome the setback and revived themselves under the leadership of agitation leader Rakesh Tikait. The maha panchayat being held in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the support expressed by them for farmers have shown that protest against farm laws is not limited to just Punjab alone.
Attempt is also being made to hold similar panchayats of farmers in other states too. There are pockets of support for farmers in Maharashtra and South also. Political parties that were kept out so far are now part of the farmer's protest. The jats and Muslim farmers who were divided in Western UP have now united and have made a call to farmers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to join the protest. The attempt to dub the protesters as Khalistani separatists and "anti-nationals" has not worked. So the time has come when direct talks between farmers and the government should resume.
The Narendra Modi government was able to crush many protests in urban areas against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and also against its policy of privatization, but farmers' protest is turning out to be a tough nut to crack. The number of protesters is also large. The farmers also influence a large number of people in rural India. The BJP has cultivated rural India through their schemes like gas connections, water supply, and electrification and would not like the protests to continue.
The lesson to be learned is that popularity or support for any political party or government cannot be taken for granted. It can change as has been the case in the past. This protest is receiving international attention. Not only social media but from governments of the US, Canada, and the UK have commented on it. The UN Secretary-General has pleaded for restraint. Modi is not traveling at present but if he visits any country in the West he would have to answer questions about farmers' protests.
Withdraw farm laws
The farmers want the farm law to be withdrawn. As the government has no problem in amending them so why not withdraw them. The farmer's second demand is to make Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farm produce a legal right. It is no secret that with the exception of Punjab and Haryana, MSP is not paid for wheat and rice. Commercial crops like cotton are not covered. Sugarcane dues remain pending for months if not years.
The current state of farmers leaves much to be desired. The number of suicides and sale of farm produce for pennies in bumper years are no secret. So instead of talking about doubling farmers' income by 2022, which has become impossible, practical steps are needed to reduce farmers' distress. The entry of the private sector is probably necessary for investment but it has to be regulated by making sure they do not purchase below MSP. The economy cannot be stabilized without the rural area growing and of which farmers are an essential part.
The BJP should realize public support for any political party or government is fickle and can change overnight. It has happened in the past and can happen in the future. Former prime minister Indira Gandhi, who was able to divide Pakistan into two parts, lost power and election. Her son and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who won over four hundred seats in the Lok sabha, was defeated. The Janata Party, which was voted to power after the Emergency of 1975-77, could not complete its full term. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who called early elections with the idea of winning the polls, was defeated and Congress was voted to power for two terms. So politics is a game of uncertainties and voters are fickle; so the Modi government should not take them for granted.
(The writer is a veteran journalist. The views are personal)
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