PM Modi’s U-turn on Land Bill a clever strategy

U-turns are allowed on Parliament Street. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand U-turn on the land ordinance, dropping pro-industry provisions altogether and passing the buck to the state legislatures, is a clever strategy to shrug off the “suit-boot ki sarkar” tag that had come to stick to it, that too, in times of farm distress and famer unrest. However much BJP president Amit Shah tries to hardsell Modi’s “backward caste” status, the PM’s surname does conjure up images of big business, and high living in people’s minds. There is an attempt to correct this perception when the PM announces that, “my farmer should not be scared. I don’t want to give an opportunity to anybody to scare the farmers. For me, every voice in the country is important, but the voice of the farmers has special significance.

“And this appeal makes it clear that the Opposition’s campaign against the government grabbing farmers’ land for industry has succeeded.

BJP had lost the last important assembly polls in Delhi by a huge margin (67-3) and as it approaches the next big election in Bihar it doesn’t want to dubbed anti-farmer. The inputs from RSS affiliates about people’s perception of the land ordinance and the attitude of the NDA allies towards it have certainly influenced Modi to drop the amendments.

The turmoil in the PM’s home state, Gujarat, is ascribed to the grave agrarian situation. Politial scientist Ghanshyam Shah wrote recently that, “small and marginal farmers (of Gujarat) have been left behind, and the head of every third Patidar household is a small and marginal farmer, and/ or a landless labourer. He grapples with the constant tension of high aspirations and wretched living conditions. Poor farmers don’t have enough resources to invest in farming and incur debt. Hardik Patel, the leader of the agitation, highlighted cases of farmer suicide. The government has been guilty of ignoring the phenomenon.”

In this context, the government had to do something dramatic for an image makeover and that is what the PM has attempted.

Hardik Patel might be just another bad student, barely out of college, propped up by political Patels trying to give expression to the frustration of the middle peasantry, but if he succeeds in linking up the Gujjars, the Jats, the Kurmis and other farming communities of north India, the Union government would have a tough situation to handle.
One-fourth of the NDA government’s tenure is over and there isn’t much to celebrate. So, Modi should at least ensure that there isn’t much to deride the government either. Dropping the ordinance is a big step in that direction to let the Opposition feel victorious and to remove an eyesore for the farmers before one of the most important agrarian Hindi heartland state goes to polls.