NEW DELHI: Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hard-selling the contentious farm laws for months, its potential political cost appears to have weighed high in the government’s considerations to resort to a tactical retreat.
Pressure from Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), apprehension of ceding space to Congress in Haryana, and risk assessments in the poll-bound states appear to have prevailed over the BJP to buy peace with agitating farmers, with an offer to keep the laws in abeyance for a year and a half.
While the offer to keep the farm laws in suspended animation for a while may not be called a complete surrender by the government, the NDA at the Centre in the past had given up after pushing hard for amendments to the land acquisition law. After three ordinances, PM Modi had announced the intent of the government to allow the legislative intervention to lapse in the face of widespread protests by farmers.
The prolonged farm agitation had put the BJP-JJP (Janata Jannayak Party) alliance government in Haryana staring at the prospects of Congress plucking off vulnerable MLAs from the ranks of the deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala-led outfit. Twice Chautala met the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to raise concerns about the farm laws.
In the last meeting, he was accompanied by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Within the BJP, it is being observed that Congress is gaining back the support base of the Jats (agrarian caste) in Rohtak-Sonipat regions. In the past few weeks, the government and the BJP sought to build a case that farmers in other states were in support of the farm laws.
However, party leaders admitted that the response had largely been lukewarm. Even if farmers weren’t up in arms in the poll-bound states of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, BJP was wary of a possible dent in support, with political rivals drumming up an anti-farmer narrative against the saffron outfit. Importantly, RSS wasn’t seen as overzealous about the farm laws, with its affiliates, particularly the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) being vocal about the assurance on MSP (Minimum Support Price) made mandatory for private procurement of grains.
The RSS is learnt to have also been cautious of reports about growing anger against BJP in Punjab. For RSS, insiders believe, the farm laws weren’t worth frittering away the organizational gains in all parts of Punjab, and a special bond with the Sikh community.