After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a rollback of three controversial farm laws that kept protesting farmers on the street for more than a year, a blizzard of “thank-you” tweets followed from BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh.
“You must have heard the Prime Minister’s address where he announced the repeal of the farm laws that unions were agitating against. These laws were in the interest of the country but voices against it could not be ignored. We have to solve this through dialogue. Dialogue is the biggest strength of a democracy and the Prime Minister should be thanked for this,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath tweeted.
Minutes later, the Chief Minister called the move a “historic step”, talking to news agency ANI.
This morning, PM Modi, in a surprise address to the nation, said: “While apologising to the nation, I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that maybe something was lacking in our tapasya (dedication) that we could not explain the truth, as clear as the light of the diya, to some of our farmer brothers. 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.”
Thousands of farmers from states like UP, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have been camping outside Delhi since November 2020 to protest against the laws.
The BJP hopes for a turnaround as it faces unprecedented anger in UP, especially western Uttar Pradesh, where farmers are a significant bloc.
The anger snowballed after the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in which four farmers were run over by an SUV driven allegedly by Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra.
Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief and former Chief Minister who has emerged as the principal challenge to the BJP in UP, said the Modi government could not be trusted, that they could bring back the laws after the elections. “These people think this fake apology will return them to power but the people understand all this. The laws have been repealed for votes. How will the murderers of Lakhimpur be brought to justice,” he said.
The Samajwadi Party’s alliance with Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is expected to do well in western UP, which has about 100 assembly seats and where the BJP won more than 70 seats in the 2017 polls. There have been reports of a renewal of the Jat-Muslim unity in the region that was shattered after the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar.
“Kisaan inko chunaav main saaf kar dega (Farmers will wipe them out). The farmers are not a priority – votes are a priority for the BJP,” Mr Yadav told reporters.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is managing the Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh, said the PM had been forced to climb down only because of polls.
“Watching him, I thought of the family of Daljit Singh, one of the farmers who died. I wondered what they were thinking – the son of a minister in the Modi government crushed him, the family must be thinking the Prime Minister never came to visit them, the minister still shares stage with the PM, and today the PM is apologising ? The elections are approaching – surveys show the BJP is on a weak footing… that is why they are doing this,” Priyanka Gandhi told reporters.
“Who will trust the Prime Minister’s intention? Everything is clear before the country. If the government was serious, proper action would be taken on Lakhimpur,” she said.
Asked whether the opposition would now have to recalibrate its strategy for western UP, the Congress leader said: “I feel there is no one wiser than the farmer in this country. They see and realise everything and one must not doubt their ability to perceive and understand what is happening.”
Retaining Uttar Pradesh is important enough for the BJP to justify PM Modi’s biggest policy reversal since 2014, when he came to power.
The UP election will test all parties ahead of the 2024 national election.
According to reports, the BJP’s internal survey produced grim results and served as a reality check for the party that has been sweeping elections in UP since 2014. The party worries that the farmers’ agitation would pull down its tally this time.
So deep-seated is the anger that BJP leaders, including MLAs, were “banned” by villagers in many areas.
Additionally, the reported consolidation of the Jat and Muslim votes in western UP is also a challenge for the BJP, amplified by the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal tie-up.