NARENDRA Modi’s unwillingness to concede to Indian farmers could mean he faces a battering in this year’s local elections, an expert has said.
Despite the BJP’s stubborn stance on the controversial Farmers’ Bills, protests in Delhi have only continued to grow.
Last week saw tractor rallies around Delhi – a rehearsal for mass Republic Day demonstrations on January 26, protestors said.
The BJP already faced electoral disappointment in Haryana in late December, where they took just one of three mayoral seats up for grabs.
They will only continue to cede political ground as the protests continue, according to Professor Guharpal Singh of SOAS University – but Modi won’t relent.
“These have been mobilisation of farmers in the 1960s and 1970s; the became anti-government protests, which eventually brought down the Congress government of Indira Gandhi,” he told Redaction Politics.
“The government, in my opinion, is unlikely to concede as it see itself as a hard, transformative government taking tough decisions.
“It may offer the olive branch of a symbolic settlement for farmers in Haryana and Punjab, but not significant concessions.
“I think the dominant Hindu nationalist narrative is in danger of being eroded by the national sympathy for the farmers and how they have conducted themselves.
“There is some indication that it is already having some impact on his votebank – for example, in Haryana – and there are critical elections in the states in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Kerala next year, which might turn the tide against the government.”
The BJP’s loss hasn’t necessarily led to a boost for the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, however.
Professor Singh said that while they face the obstacle of the farmers refusing to politicise their campaign, the INC, along with other smaller opposition parties, have failed to coordinate an effective campaign around the issue.
“If this can be achieved, the agitation has the potential to become a moral struggle,” he added.
While not groundbreaking, the protests have still caused a stir in Western nations, especially where there are large Indian diasporas with links back to Punjab.
Last week Wisconsin State Assembly’s Speaker Robin Vos urged Modi to “sit down with the affected farmers to listen to their concerns”, while Brits of Indian origin held a demonstration last month over the issue.
This won’t cause either leader to speak out about the issue, however, especially with trade deals up for grabs.
Over 100 MPs and Lords wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week to urge him to help resolve the issue with his Indian counterpart.
Professor Singh said: “I think both [Joe Biden and Boris Johnson] will steer clear of this, especially Johnson, who will seek a trade deal and Biden would not want to upset the Indian government too much – he’s yet to deal with the tricky issue of Kashmir – because of the American interest in using India as a lever against China.”
Professor Guharpal Singh is a political scientist at SOAS University of London. He specialises in Sikh and Punjab Studies.
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