BJP deploys 54 ministers to clear farmers' 'misgivings'

Facing farmers' fury, BJP deploys 54 ministers to clear 'misgivings' on farm laws

Give farm laws a try for a year or two at least, says Rajnath Singh

Farmers shout slogans during a protest against new farm laws, in Rohtak. Credit: PTI.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah sought to assure farmers that no corporate can snatch any farmer's land as long as Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister while addressing a gathering in the national capital.

This statement had an uncanny resemblance with BJP's repeated assurance on the quota issue that nobody can touch reservation as long as Modi is in power.

While the Prime Minister in his speech slammed the Opposition governments in West Bengal and Kerala on the farm issue, the BJP pressed 54 ministers, including 21 Cabinet rank ministers to attend the Kisan Samman Nidhi programme and send a message of the Modi government's sensitivity towards farmer issues.

BJP chief JP Nadda said, "Sending Rs 18,089 crore directly into accounts of 9.4 crore farmers under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana is a big step from the point of view of good governance."

While Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sithraman, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and many others spoke on the issue in Delhi, the epicentre of farmer agitation was Nitin Gadkari's programme venue held in Silchar, Assam, which is another state going to polls in 2021.

As farmer agitation completed one month with no signs of the protest abating, the Centre on Friday went into a conciliatory mode, to the extent of urging the farmers to "try the new Agri laws as an experiment for a year or two" and making a promise that the "government will amend the legislations" if they are not found beneficial.

Read: Try new farm laws for a year or two, amendments will be made if not found beneficial: Rajnath to farmers

Despite more than half a dozen rounds of talks between the government and the representatives of the farmers,  a resolution is yet to emerge and political analysts say it has much to do with the issue of trust deficit. Last week, Rahul Gandhi sought to widen the ambit of his attack on the government on farmer issues alleging "farmers, Dalits and women" are victims of "Modi's Jumla strike".

The Opposition, which has not been able to build a very successful campaign against Modi government on corruption, with Rahul Gandhi's Chowkidar Chor Hai campaign on Rafale also not cutting much ice, has repeatedly managed to put the NDA dispensation in a tight spot on farmer and Dalit issues starting from 2014 end soon after Modi government came to power for the first time.

A concerted campaign by Rahul Gandhi-led Congress and other Opposition parties in 2015 against Modi government's land ordinance had forced the government to step back on it. The same year, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's reported remarks about a review of reservation in the middle of Bihar polls provided an opportunity to the Opposition to form an alliance and make a big issue of the quota and they painted the BJP as anti-reservation, seeking to galvanise SCs and OBCs in Bihar.

That was the first time when Modi categorically rubbished the reservation rumours, saying nobody can touch till he was in power, a commitment he reiterated multiple times. The remark came up most recently in 2019-end during polls in the tribal state of Jharkhand, when he said, "Till Modi is here, nobody can touch the reservations, given to us by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar."

Identity issues played a key role in both these elections and BJP lost both.

Again, the farmers' issue has proved to be a soft belly of the Modi government. They had lost a government in Madhya Pradesh in 2018, a year after the killing of six farmers in a police firing during a protest in Mandsaur in 2017.

Read: Not a single benefit, but a lot of harm: Arvind Kejriwal on farm laws

Sensing an opportunity again over the momentum building against the farm laws, Congress and other Opposition parties, which had in past sought to corner the government on the farmer and Dalit issues, once again, upped the ante.

Conscious of the potential damage that the campaign can do, BJP has gone fully hog brandishing "pro-farmer" credentials of the Modi government. MoS Finance Anurag Singh Thakur assured that the government will fulfil its promise to double the farmers' income by 2022 and Amit emphasised on how the Modi government fulfilled the years-old demand of one and half times MSP on crops during 2014-19.

While he again assured that the provision of MSP will continue and Mandis will not shut down, Shah also struck another conciliatory note if farmer organisations felt that any provision of the farm laws is against their interests, the Modi government is ready to discuss and consider this with an open mind.

Senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh went to the extent of promising that the "government will amend the legislations" if they are not found beneficial and urged farmers to "try the new Agri laws as an experiment. "Let farm laws be implemented from one year or two. Let's try this as an experiment, and if found not beneficial for farmers, the government will be ready for all possible amendments," he said addressing a rally in Dwarka, another locality of Delhi.

Singh, who has repeatedly identified himself as the 'son of a farmer" also chose to take a strikingly different line from many BJP leaders refraining from finding members of 'tukde tukde gang" among the protesting farmers and asserted "those who are sitting on dharna are farmers and are born to farmers' families. We have a lot of respect for them."

On one side, Singh assured that the Modi government will never do anything which is not in the interests of the farmers, and the other, Prime Minister cited the election results of Panchayat bodies in Assam, Rajasthan and Jammu Kashmir after the passage of the new farm laws.

"Mostly people from rural areas, farmers took part in these. In a way, they have rejected all the parties, who are misleading the farmers." Claiming that farmers across the country have given full support to farmer laws, Modi assured them "we will let anything cloud your trust (in his government)."

In Rampur, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, "no corruption, no cut and no commission. The Modi government is committed to the protection and promotion of farmers". While Smriti Irani accused Rahul Gandhi of "shedding crocodile tears and telling lies" on the farm laws, Devendra Fadnavis said farm laws will provide "freedom" to farmers.

I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar felt "some" farmers protesting against the recently enacted Central laws were misguided by their "political masters" even as the farmer Unions had recently expressed their strong annoyance a few days back against the government linking their protest to Opposition politics.