BJP must devise new ways to blunt the threat from this new political order, Repeal of Farm Laws cannot be a exit strategy

Farm Laws Repealed: Where It Went Wrong For BJP And Modi

by Tushar Gupta - Wednesday, November 24, 2021 01:16 PM IST
Farm Laws Repealed: Where It Went Wrong For BJP And Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • While BJP employed its political ammunition in the Parliament, the actual perception battle was being played out someplace else.

    BJP must devise new ways to blunt the threat from this new political order, for riots or repealing of reforms cannot be the exit strategy always.

The debacle of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the issue of the three farm laws is hard to phrase in simple terms. An honest discussion is warranted around why, where, and how the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi buckled.

In the tall tree of reforms, the three farm laws were perhaps the lowest hanging fruit. The three laws were what the opposition parties had always wanted, agricultural lobbies had supported, observers, stakeholders, and experts from the industry had validated.

Ironically, in 2019, Punjab’s Economic Survey, under the government of Captain Amarinder Singh (CAS), had a chapter elaborating on the importance of private sector participation in agriculture. CAS himself was the pioneer of privatisation in Punjab, ushering reforms on the lines of the three-farm laws with success in 2003-04.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which exited the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by the BJP on the issue of the laws, had embraced privatisation in 2013 during their reign, though never choosing to implement it.

What Modi was attempting with the three farm laws was not something new, for more than 90 per cent of the agricultural produce is already traded through the private sector. Beyond the two-dozen crops under the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism, there is a whole sector around fruits, vegetables, livestock, forestry, and fisheries that thrive without the MSP.

In Punjab alone, the dairy sector, independent of the clutches of the MSP or Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), has grown faster than the agriculture sector, centred around wheat and paddy. Private enterprises and entrepreneurs, from milkmen to dairy products stores and companies, all continue to thrive in Punjab to this day.

Beyond Punjab, the fortunes of the agriculture sector in India do not depend on MSP. For the 22 crops under MSP, the procurement rarely exceeded 30 per cent of their total market value. Of the 10 procured crops under MSP, the purchase accounted for only 33 per cent of their total market value in the cropping season of 2019-20.

Factoring in the three major crops, the purchases paint a dismal picture. For wheat, paddy, and cotton, purchases made against their total market value accounted for 37, 44, and 30 per cent, respectively.

Thus, while the likes of Rakesh Tikait may want MSP for the three main crops to be as high as 10 grams of gold, but on ground, there is not enough room for MSP procurement for all wheat, paddy, and cotton grown. For the other 19 crops, the purchases made for merely 9 per cent of their total market value. So much for MSP saving the average Indian farmer and agriculture sector.

For a government that survived demonetisation, the introduction and adoption of Goods and Service Tax (GST), and a national lockdown where people, simply because of their faith in the Prime Minister, left everything and sat home for more than a month, sacrificing employment, earnings, and everything else, the debacle on reform as simple as this is difficult to explain.

The reform was not remotely rooted in religion, like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), or in weeding out illegal immigrants that would disturb the vote banks of some regional parties as the NRC should be, and would have only helped a sector that contributes 16-20 per cent to the GDP, and has 40 per cent of our population involved, by many estimates, directly and indirectly.

Truth be told, the BJP was favourite to win the Uttar Pradesh election before the address of the Prime Minister, and after it as well. Nothing changed there, or in Punjab, where it was destined to lose in the upcoming election before the address too, and even in the most optimistic scenario, will only find itself in the position of a pseudo-kingmaker, assuming CAS’ Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), BJP, SAD, and the BSP can find a way to work together.

Electorally, BJP’s juggernaut, even after the setback in West Bengal, is unstoppable. Almost 36 months before the next national election in 2024, the odds are in favour of the BJP to make a return with a triple century. Even with respect to the states, in the next few months, BJP will lose very few and have enough wins to compensate for the losses. For instance, a defeat in Uttarakhand would be compensated by a win in Rajasthan and so forth. Routine electoral maths, nothing unusual.

Policywise, BJP has been on the right track, pressing all the right buttons. From Kashmir where Article 370 was rendered infructuous more than two years ago, to the big infrastructural push, and from ushering manufacturing in India with commendable Production Linked Incentive (PLI) schemes to a V-shaped recovery after the pandemic, the BJP, mostly, is doing the right things on the economy front.

On the socialist front, what this author calls Modi’s BMW socialism is starting to change the rural landscape. BMW Socialism or ‘Bare Minimum Workable’ Socialism can be best described as the minimum state support for 800 million people that puts them in a position to tap other opportunities, from education to employment, across public and private sector.

The support is in the form of financial inclusion, housing, food grains, formalisation of the rural economy, drinking water, education, cash transfers when needed, healthcare support, insurance and infrastructure, and so forth.

‘Workable’ is what sets Modi’s socialism apart from his predecessors, especially those marvelling till date about Nehruvian socialism or the Rajiv Gandhi socialism where for every rupee spent by the government, only 5 per cent of it would reach the intended beneficiaries.

The three farm laws, apart from being the biggest economic reform since 1991, would have been the most significant reform in the realm of BMW socialism.

Lastly, from a leadership perspective, there is no leader remotely close to Narendra Modi in terms of popular support and public trust. While TMC’s Mamata Banerjee or AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal may want to fancy themselves as the next national leaders, a political joke that shall unravel with time, it is in Modi and some of his selected deputies, Yogi Adityanath, for instance, where the public rests their faith, for now, and for the future.

And yet, the BJP caved in.

Worse, the Prime Minister had to apologise on national television for being unable to convince a section of farmers, mainly from one state. It must also be pointed out that Punjab’s annadata is neither selfless nor godly, but one that thrives on the FCI buyout sponsored by the taxpayers, free power and groundwater that has an environmental cost to be paid by the future generations, and the generosity of the centre it has taken for granted for decades now.

The debacle around farm laws, viewed independently, serves new and important lessons for Modi and the BJP, not only in the centre but also in the states where the party governs. Unlike the other issues noted above, where BJP succeeded by virtue of electoral support, policy wisdom, or leadership excellence, the farm laws threw up a challenge no one in the BJP was prepared for, and is not even today, perhaps.

BJP’s next challenge will not come from a parliamentary opposition. They will win elections for the work they do, as they have in the last seven years. Their leadership will only excel, as it has for the last seven years. Their policies will have the desired outcomes and the long-term impact, as the tales of BMW socialism tell us.

Interestingly, the opposition realises this too. Even the most passionate supporters of Congress have embraced the fact that a political contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi will always end in the latter winning handsomely. Therefore, the opposition has changed its tactics too. While BJP kept protecting their off-stump from the parliamentary opposition, their middle stump was undone by the googly of the rookies from Sinister Six.

In Spider-Man comics, Sinister Six was a group of antagonists, similar to the political ones in India today. Unlike the conventional parliamentary opposition, the group does not believe in the ethos of institutionalised democracy, policymaking, and processes.

Backed by political parties and often themselves taking the shape of a political outfit, this group threatens the march of Modi and BJP. However, the threat is more prominent on the streets than in Parliament. Simply put, in their incapacity to earn a majority in the Lok Sabha, the opposition is now aiming to usher in a policy paralysis by unleashing the Sinister Six in more than one form.

Firstly, it would be the forces looking to take the streets. Kashmir, JNU, Shaheen Bagh, post-poll violence in Bengal, riots in Delhi, Republic Day vandalism, and Singhu. Opposition-backed street violence has taken different shades under the Modi regime, but with one common agenda, to disrupt the policymaking and to undermine the authority of the legislature and law and order.

From stone-pelting in Kashmir to setting up a mini-city in Singhu, the forces taking to the street have been cunning in using children, women, young students, and old farmers as both the face and a shield for the illegal occupation of streets, rendering the state helpless to some extent.

The days of sitting peacefully at a designated protest site are long gone, for the new trend is to occupy whatever public space one can, make an emotional spectacle of it for the people to consume and endorse, and to later unleash the underlying violent forces.

Two, it would be the forces looking to shackle the economic growth of India with socialism. It is important to distinguish between Modi’s BMW socialism and the socialism advocated by the likes of Kejriwal, Gandhis, and other regional parties. While the former is an enabler for 800 million people and the idea of a $5 trillion economy by 2030, the latter is essentially a cash/freebies-for-votes scam, peddled in the garb of election campaigns.

The socialist forces in question resist every move by the government to exit the business it has no business to be in, and sell any new reform as an attempt of the NDA to sell the country to the likes of Ambani and Adani. Collaborating with the first group, these forces then endorse violent attacks on India’s capitalists and their businesses, as was the case with Jio Towers in Punjab, or extortion racket in Maharashtra, or resisting private sector participation in the agri-sector.

Three, the activists and the pseudo-intellectual forces. These forces take various shapes and have infiltrated several arms of the state, including the BJP. The biggest threat from them is to infrastructure growth and investments in India. As was the case of Central Vista and Mumbai metro, activists indulge in repeated PILs, aimed at disrupting critical infrastructure and consequently inflating their costs.

As was the case with Vir Das earlier this month, the self-proclaimed intellectuals, with a decent social media presence, are hired by the first two forces to peddle anti-India and anti-growth propaganda that creates a perception of India not being an ideal destination for investments.

For instance, during the CAA and farm laws protest, an entire army of social media influencers, to the tune of a few hundreds, was employed to spread misinformation about the policies. For these influencers, CAA was about Indian Muslims losing their citizenship and farm laws about farmers losing their land. Unfortunately, millions of their gullible followers were fooled.

Four, the communal forces. Using the above three forces as their marketing and branding arms, this sinister group is now active in several pockets of India. Shades of it were visible during the CAA protest where the confirmed and documented persecution of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Parsis, and Jains was twisted and told as a tale of Muslims being thrown out of India.

The farm laws, a reform for 400-600 million directly and indirectly linked to agriculture, were twisted and sold as BJP persecuting Sikhs. Laws against ‘Love Jihad’ and conversion are seen as an attack on India’s secularism. Article 370 was made only about Kashmiri Muslims, irrespective of how other Hindu communities continued to suffer in the state.

However, the most threatening shade of it was visible during the post-poll violence in West Bengal, where Hindus were targeted for voting the BJP. In several states, especially West Bengal and Kerala, lynching and killing of RSS workers have become a norm. Today, the same communal forces are willing to take to the streets to have the government repeal CAA and re-enforce Article 370.

Five, the Big Tech. Here, the BJP must take a lesson from former President Donald Trump. Once outed from power in a questionable election, the Big Tech united with all the above forces to eliminate Trump’s presence from social media. The recent Twitter fiasco serves as a reminder that the same methods can also be employed in India, against the BJP.

For a long period of time, conservatives, republicans, or people to the right of centre have been fighting the bias of social media, and going forward, it will only get worse. For a nation of a billion internet users in the making, Big Tech goes much beyond social media and now encompasses everything, from movies to metaverse.

When it comes to Big Tech, the Indian Right must discard its complacency, wherever it exists, and take the cue from Trump’s defeat. The focus should shift from convenient boycotts and careless jingoism to calculated investments and capacity building for the future of India.

The vision of the Indian Right must go beyond the election cycle when it comes to the Big Tech. Unfortunately, the government has been slow on it as well, given the lack of urgency with which they have pushed for data protection and privacy law and data localisation.

Six, certain sections within the judiciary. Amongst the many mistakes made by the government in their handling of the farmers’ protests, one of them was not taking the apex court into confidence. From seeking an injunction against the tractor rally merely days before 26 January 2021 to the committee that was to address the concerns of the farmers to the stalling of the laws itself, the government allowed the apex court to take it for a ride. With its selective inaction, the apex court is not blameless in this entire fiasco.

However, the misadventures of the apex court and the consequences of its judicial activism are not restricted to the recent protest alone. In no democracy is the apex court in the business of telling the government how to run the government or run it on their behalf, or is in the business to dictate which businesses must run or not or how.

Firecrackers on Diwali, Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant, interfering in environmental clearances to critical infrastructure projects, Aadhar implementation, oxygen logistics, and even the distribution and pricing of vaccine; the apex court has become an unelected, forced, and self-proclaimed arm of the legislature, playing into the hands of the above five forces, and completing the Sinister Six group.

The methodologies of the Sinister Six are that of asymmetric warfare. If you can’t defeat the contemporary on equal footing, invest in weaker, yet efficient, methodologies that render the strong weapons of the state futile. For the Sinister Six, with promoters across all parties, some in the BJP itself, the idea is simple; if you can’t make it to the Parliament by elections, render both the parliamentary process and elections useless.

The BJP government will have to improvise and improve its ways of communication, public discourse and deliberation, and internal security along with the evolving threat of the Sinister Six, for farm laws or not, the group is here to stay, and with its new-found validation, will only mainstream itself before 2024.

It is this collective working of the Sinister Six, across the last fifteen months, that took the BJP down on the issues of farm laws. While BJP employed its political ammunition in the Parliament, the actual perception battle was being played out someplace else.

Finally, the sharpness in electoral efficiency will get the BJP to the Parliament, but they must devise new ways to blunt the threat from this new political order, starting with bettering their communication, for riots or repealing of reforms cannot be the exit strategy always.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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