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Electoral Compulsion?

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Depending on how one looks at it, the Prime Minister’s decision to repeal the three farm laws is a sign of the weakness or strength of democracy. Most experts believe that the reforms were necessary to take Indian agriculture to the next, desperately needed level. If they are right, then being forced to repeal the laws is a major setback with long term implications. The productivity levels of Indian agriculture are the lowest among comparable nations. The subsidies continue to rise, despite having already reached unsustainable levels. The only persons benefiting are a small group of middle-men and farmers with large holdings. So, if the government was right, India is going to suffer the consequences.

On the other hand, that the government has been made to give in by a small but powerful lobby may be considered a victory for the natural give and take in a democracy. It may be that the Prime Minister has had to relent because of electoral logic and under pressure from MPs and MLAs that represent constituencies with a significant presence of such farmers. Percentage wise they may not be dominant, but there is no guarantee that the BJP’s vote-base will hold together enough in these constituencies to overcome the resistance.

The opposition parties are, of course, greatly elated and not wasting any time in taking credit for Modi’s ‘defeat’. Akhilesh Yadav has claimed that the size of his rallies forced the BJP to do a rethink. P Chidambaram is asking the government to also apologise for the CAA, GST, and other initiatives. The farmers, on their part, are demanding even more concessions, not wanting to end the more than a year long picnic.

Electorally, the repeal is not going to make much of a difference to the BJP’s prospects – Akhilesh should also take a look at the size of its rallies. The most probable beneficiary could be Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab, who had declared a possible alliance with the BJP if the laws are repealed. He can claim credit for having got the PM to change his mind – this is where the significance of the day of the announcement comes in. The new alliance could pose a challenge to the badly divided Congress and discredited SAD by presenting a ‘nationalistic’ front. The PM, it seems, has chosen to cut his losses and ‘monetise’ other assets. It would be premature to declare victory or defeat before the results of the coming elections come in. If one set of the people in democracy have had their way, another lot may still vote differently with a majority!