Article: What does the repeal of farm laws mean for Punjab’s assembly elections next year?

Vivek Gupta

Ever since the farmers’ movement against the three agricultural laws emerged from Punjab and went global, a drastic political change ensued in the state.

The movement took the major decision to keep a distance from political leaders. Naturally, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Punjab unit faced the brunt as their party was responsible for enacting the controversial laws.

The movement also redrew political alignments in the state, forcing Punjab’s old regional party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), to snap ties with the BJP and attempt a new social and political coalition when it inked a pact with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Third, the BJP’s stock fell remarkably, so much so that no other party dares to align with it. When former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh exited the Congress and announced he would be open to ally with the BJP, he came in for criticism for siding with anti-Punjab forces.

Drastic changes expected

Now the announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal the laws is going to have a cascading effect.

Political commentator and journalist Hamir Singh said that the victory of the farmers will certainly set the tone for a new era of politics in Punjab.

“I see the emergence of alternative politics in Punjab under the leadership of farmer leaders. I will not be surprised if farmer leaders float their own party and take their fight forward. Only time will tell how successful they are going to be but they will certainly make an impact. The farmers’ movement has created a space for dissent against mainstream parties and gave people the confidence to believe that they can fight the powerful forces,” he said

Hamir Singh added that there will also be new alignments in mainstream political parties.

“There is a chance that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will attempt to bring popular leaders from the movement into the party and maybe even make one of them the chief ministerial face,” he said.

He predicted that the BJP’s political boycott will end and that the saffron party can ink alliances. “I don’t see SAD and the BJP coming together at least in the pre-poll stage, but the emergence of a fourth front led by the BJP [is possible],” he said.

Besides, political parties can go into campaign mode in the region. The farmers’ unions had prevented parties from campaigning.

Another political commentator Harjeshwar Pal Singh said that the positive outcome of the farmers’ protest will strengthen participatory democracy in Punjab. Civil society will now be emboldened to question mainstream political parties.

Second, new leaders will emerge from the movement, he said.

“Third, AAP may see a revival. Compared to other political parties, it still has space to accommodate some of the known faces of the farmers’ movement. But that does not mean that other political parties cannot do it too,” he said.

Political analyst Pramod Kumar told The Wire that the entire credit for the withdrawal of the laws goes to the farmers’ unions. He added that because of the movement, it is clear that corporatisation of agriculture is an anti-poor and anti-farmer move and is not environmentally and economically sustainable.

The farmers’ movement will also ensure that the elections will not be based on rhetorical statements but will force political parties to discuss real issues like unemployment, economic development and the drug menace, as people will demand more accountability.

BJP-SAD alliance highly unlikely

Political analyst Ashutosh Kumar told The Wire that the repeal of the farm laws will be a setback for the Congress. Until now, the laws were its core electoral issue, through which it hoped to swing the elections. Now, the focus will be on the Congress government’s performance.

Secondly, the SAD and BJP are unlikely to resume their alliance for a number of reasons. First, the SAD has already inked a pact with the BSP. Second, the BJP will not settle for just 23 seats. There are 54 seats with a majority of Hindu voters, which represent a golden opportunity for the BJP to cultivate leaders in those seats.

The SAD will also be opposed to an alliance because it will deal another blow to the party’s credibility. The people will say that it was always hand in glove with the BJP and snapping the alliance was just drama, he said.

He, however, did not rule out a post-poll alliance between saffron and Akali forces if the need arises.

Opportunity for Amarinder Singh?

The repeal will also provide an opportunity for Amarinder Singh to revive his political career. Ever since he announced that he would be open to work with the BJP – if they repeal the farm laws – he was seen as public enemy number two.

He can now welcome disgruntled Congress leaders into his new party.

“This has not only come as a huge relief to farmers but has paved the way for Punjab’s progress. I look forward to working closely with @BJP4India led centre for development of Kisans. I promise Punjab’s people I won’t rest till I wipe every tear from every single eye,” Singh said in a tweet.

He added, “Huge huge day for all of us in Punjab. I’d been pursuing the matter with Centre for last 1+ year & had met @narendramodi ji @AmitShah ji requesting them to heed the voice of our annadaatas. Really happy they’ve heard farmers & understood our concerns’: @capt_amarinder @PMOIndia”

Punjab political leaders’ response

On the Union government’s move, Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi said that the decision to repeal the three black farm laws is “a victory of the longest peaceful people’s struggle” that was started by farmers in Punjab.

Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu tweeted, “The repealing of black laws a step in the right direction …. Satyagrah of Kisan morcha gets historic success…. You’re (sic) sacrifice has paid dividends…. Revival of farming in Punjab through a road map should be the top priority for the Pb govt ….accolades.”

Another senior Congress leader and MP from Punjab, Manish Tewari, released a statement, saying that the struggle of the farmers triumphed while arrogance had wilted. “Long live Kisan-Mazdoor unity,” he added.

AAP’s Raghav Chadha issued a video message, saying that the repeal of the farm laws is “a big victory for the country’s annadata. An arrogant government finally succumbed to the historic protest of the farmers”.

Guarded response from SKM

In a statement, Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a joint forum of farmers’ unions, had a guarded response after Prime Minister Modi announced the decision to repeal all three laws.

“Samyukt Kisan Morcha welcomes this decision and will wait for the announcement to take effect through due parliamentary procedures. If this happens, it will be a historic victory of the one-year-long farmers’ struggle in India. However, nearly 700 farmers have been martyred in this struggle. The central government’s obstinacy is responsible for these avoidable deaths, including the murders at Lakhimpur Kheri,” it said.

In the statement, the SKM also reminded the prime minister that the agitation of farmers is not limited to the repeal of the three laws, but also for a statutory guarantee of remunerative prices for all agricultural produce and for all farmers.

It further said that the SKM will take note of all the developments, hold its meeting soon and announce further decisions. Courtesy The Wire