By announcing the repeal of the three farm regulations that have been the subject of a lengthy dispute between his administration and a group of farmers for a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done the right thing. The rules aimed to more closely align India’s agricultural sector with market economy principles. They would have altered the nation’s food procurement and distribution systems, arousing concerns that producers and consumers would suffer, ultimately serving the interests of large corporations. These concerns were made worse by the undemocratic process by which these laws were enacted—through ordinances, and then ratified in Parliament without debate or input from the states.The decision to repeal them is a democratic achievement. On the one hand, the tenacity of the agitating farmers seemed unbreakable, while the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab drove the governing party’s hand. Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated flexibility and pragmatism by yielding to popular pressure. Farmers should not only end their protest immediately, but also be more flexible in their approach to reforming the sector. Flexibility is not a terrible thing in a democracy, which is all about ongoing bargaining, but it should not be used just for political purposes. The agitators in this case were socially dominating, economically and politically strong people whose animosity the BJP found difficult to deal with. Their repeal does not invalidate the urgent case for reforms in the agriculture sector, in which incentive mechanisms are skewed, and environmental costs are unsustainable. These must be pursued in a manner appropriate for a federal democratic democracy such as India’s. The abolition of these rules would almost certainly result in a realignment of politics in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where Assembly elections are just around the corner. The RLD, which is popular among Jatt farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, may now view the BJP differently. The Congress has been backing the farmers who have been protesting and may now declare victory. However, by removing the restrictions, the BJP has expanded its political space in both states, particularly in Punjab, where the Congress is strong. The BJP’s estranged ally, the Akali Dal, and former Congress CM Amarinder Singh, who was humiliated by the party, may also seek fresh possibilities in the scenario.
By Subhechcha Ganguly