Farm laws repeal: Modi at his nimble best with polls round the corner

The retraction of the controversial laws just ahead of UP polls speaks volumes of the PM’s ability to bend, break, and seize any opportunity for electoral success

Narendra-Modi-Amit-Shah-Election-Commission - The Federal
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah have built a political machinery that deploys cutting-edge technology with an active IT cell.

The Narendra Modi government may or may not go down in history for its administrative and governance skills. But it could well populate several chapters of B-school curricula on the need for mammoth organisations to be agile and nimble, with a sharp eye on the horizon and a keen ear to the ground.

When the Arvind Kejriwal administration in Delhi retracts its decisions — as it is often wont to — it is ridiculed for being a U-turn government. When Modi repeals three controversial laws that triggered a year-long protest by farmers amid a raging pandemic and clementine weather — with hundreds of deaths and untold sufferings — it’s a maverick decision.

Well-oiled, finely tuned machinery

That’s the political machinery that Modi, with trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, has built. It’s well-oiled and finely tuned. It deploys cutting-edge technology — an IT cell that must, even as this is being published, be creating thousands of messages with embellished ‘information’ on how the NDA government saved the sons of the soil by acting at the right moment. It also holds in thrall a multi-crore population that will faithfully forward these messages on WhatsApp groups.

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Also read: In dramatic announcement by PM, Centre rolls back three farm laws

Modi’s decision to repeal the farm laws just ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections would not be the first example in this genre.

When, in September 2019, the government stated that the terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot — which the Armed Forces had destroyed through a surgical strike a few months earlier — was revived, it was widely seen as a diversionary tactic. Modi’s opponents said it was meant to draw international attention away from Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 in the State.

Similarly, with the caste-sensitive Uttar Pradesh polls round the corner, the NDA government recently gave yet another extension to the Justice Rohini Commission — it’s 11th extension till date. The commission, looking into the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs), could hold significant implications for poll-bound UP. How the new caste-based vote-bank equations will be reshaped will probably decide when the report is submitted, say political analysts.

The demonetisation decision of November 8, 2016, on the other hand, did not pose significant electoral threat, so Modi and his government never saw the need to retract it despite the massive economic loss it caused. For the first couple of years, the PM’s supporters insisted that it was, indeed, a sound decision. Then they took to lauding the intent while agreeing that the implementation could have, in fact, been kinder to the common man. Now, there’s near-total silence on the subject. The fifth anniversary of demonetisation, which took place a couple of weeks back, saw neither full-page ads on newspapers nor posturing on social media.

A never-before apology

Today, Modi’s detractors were as surprised by his apology as they were by the repealing of the farm laws. “I apologise to the people of the country with true and pure heart… we were not able to convince farmers. There must have been some deficiency in our efforts that we could not convince some farmers,” he said in what is seen as his first-ever apology in a public forum.

Also read: Farmers nixed arrogance with satyagraha: Rahul; Mamata, Capt cheer

Earlier this year, he did issue an ‘apology’ for taking ‘harsh steps’ to contain the COVID pandemic, but his critics pointed out that it was more of a subtle self-congratulatory note. “I apologise for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people. I know some of you would be angry with me also. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle,” he said. The subtext, said his opponents, was — here’s a tough ruler with a kind heart acting in the best intentions of his subjects.

Elections matter

But the detractors are few in numbers, and easily drowned by the crore of Indians willing to take Modi at his word, never question his intention, overlook ‘small errors’, and fight anybody who disagrees. Such is the machinery the BJP has built.

It’s electoral success that keeps the machinery running, and it is that which impels the ruling party to make its decisions. Uttar Pradesh is pivotal to India’s political ecosystem, and a loss there could be a major setback for the BJP, with Parliament elections slated for 2024. The party’s top leaders are reportedly worried about the massive crowds at Akhilesh Yadav’s recent rallies, which could have spurred the farm law retraction.

After all, as business gurus never tire of repeating, agility holds the key to success. Modi proves it again and again.

Timeline of Farm Protest

Interactive timeline graphic. Click on the arrow or year to progress.

Timeline of Farm Protest

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