A month into the farmers’ protests at the capital’s borders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi effectively drew a line on Friday re-affirming his endorsement of the three laws and blaming his political opponents for what he said was their bid to “mislead” farmers.
His remarks mark his strongest public assertion against the demand that the laws be repealed. By framing it as an event attended by virtually the entire Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister indicated his resolve to use his political capital to push these laws.
Slamming the Opposition for what he called its “dogali” (doublespeak) policy over the new farm laws, Modi said the government is ready to hold talks in the interest of farmers, but it will be on “issues, logic and facts”.
“…I humbly say to even those people who are opposing us fiercely, I say with humility, our government is ready to talk to them in the interest of farmers, but the talks will be on issues, logic and facts,” Modi said after releasing the scheduled Rs 18,000-crore tranche to over 9 crore farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme.
TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – Assembly elections in the state are due next year – found particular mention for criticism in his speech.
He asked why those opposing farm laws do not speak about the interest of farmers in West Bengal, a state that has not implemented the PM-KISAN.
“Today, the political parties, which have been voted out by the people, are doing events and event management so that someone can take a selfie, get photos printed, and appear on TV so that their politics can continue. These have been exposed in front of the country. Why do they not speak of interests of farmers of West Bengal? They are engaged here to harass the citizens of Delhi and are ruining the country’s economy. That too in the name of farmers,” Modi said.
Over 23 lakh farmers of West Bengal, he said, applied online to take advantage of this scheme, but the state government stopped the verification process.
Referring to the Opposition charge that APMC mandis would be weakened with the implementation of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, he said, “You must have heard, they are talking about mandis and APMCs. Kerala has no APMC, no mandi… they organise programmes to seek attention, so they should start APMCs in Kerala by organising agitations there. You have time to mislead the farmers of Punjab, but if this system is good, then why is it not there in Kerala?”
“Why do you adopt a dogali (doublespeak) policy? What kind of politics are they doing in which there is no logic, no facts? Make false accusations and spread rumours to scare our farmers. Sometimes, naive farmers get misled by you,” the Prime Minister said.
“These people are not willing to accept any scale and parameters of democracy. They only see their benefits, their selfishness. Those who are playing the game by taking their flags in the name of farmers, will now have to listen to the truth… they cannot escape. They have the right to do politics in democracy. Do not play with the lives of innocent farmers, do not play with their future and do not mislead them,” he said.
Urging farmers “not to be misled” and “not accept the lies of anyone”, he asked them to think only on the basis of “logic and facts”. He listed the schemes initiated by his government for the welfare of farmers.
At the programme, organised on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi also interacted with six farmers from six states and asked them to share their experiences of contract farming, government schemes and other issues.
When Gagan Pering, a farmer from Lower Dibang Valley district in Arunachal Pradesh, said he had formed a farmer produce organisation for the production of ginger, and had entered into an agreement with a private company, the Prime Minister asked him, “Does the company that buy ginger from you, procure only ginger or it takes away your land?” To this, Pering said, “The agreement is only for purchase of produce, not for land. The land is owned by us, and it will remain ours.”
Modi told him: “You are sitting in a remote area of Arunachal Pradesh and you have trust that your land is safe, but some people are spreading misconceptions that if you enter into an agreement of your produce, then you will lose your land too.” This was a reference to Opposition allegations against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.
Clearly, the PM’s message Friday stands in contrast to the Centre’s climbdown on the land acquisition ordinance in 2015 in the face of milder protests.
The signal that the Government will not yield on the repeal demand comes against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations with trade unions on draft rules under the four labour codes recently brought by the government.
Just as he did with the CAA, the Prime Minister mocked the Opposition over its electoral debacle accusing it of instigating the protests to push their political agenda.
This playbook, that tries to delegitimise protests and attribute to them an agenda, isn’t new for this Government. That the BJP let its longtime ally, the Akali Dal, walk away from the NDA over this and appears unfazed over the pressure on its state government in Haryana reinforces its political resolve on the farm laws.
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