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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Modi apologises to India’s farmers in a rare display of weakness

For the last seven years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dominated Indian politics. The prime minister has been able to push through bold and often harmful initiatives because of widespread popular support and large majorities in Parliament. Secular nationalism, centred on Hinduism, has been vigorously promoted by his administration, which uses more heavy-handed measures to stifle opponents. There has been no effective resistance.

Mr. Modi suddenly doesn’t seem to be nearly as powerful on Friday, as a result of a rare retreat.

Mr. Modi said that his administration will rescind three farm laws intended at repairing the country’s ailing agricultural industry, in an unexpected concession to farmers who have been protesting the changes for more than a year, fearing that the changes would jeopardise their livelihood.

In a televised speech, he said that the administration “would initiate the process during the next Parliament session, which starts this month.” I encourage the farmers who are protesting to come home to their families, and let’s start again from the beginning.”

With his statement on Guru Nanak Jayanti, a Sikh festival, Mr. Modi was paying homage to India’s minority Sikh population, which is at the heart of the protest movement’s organising principle of nonviolence.

The speech took Indians by surprise, since they were used to Mr. Modi’s normal attitude as a tough leader who was impenetrable to criticism. The statement indicated that his support has decreased as a result of a number of issues, including the poor response to the second wave of the coronavirus and a stumbling economy, among others.

According to some surveys, Mr. Modi himself remains popular, and the fragmented opposition makes it exceedingly improbable that he would be forced from office.

However, in May, his Bharatiya Janata Party suffered a crushing defeat in elections in the state of West Bengal, which had been deemed winnable by the party. Recent polls have shown a deterioration in the B.J.P.’s position in Uttar Pradesh, which is considered a bellwether state for the national election and will have elections early next year.

Some of such deterioration might be attributed to the farmer demonstrations. This autumn, after more than a dozen fruitless rounds of discussions, the farmers adopted a new strategy, following prominent officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration as they campaigned in Uttar Pradesh and throughout northern India.

Four demonstrators, as well as four other persons, were killed when a B.J.P. truck crashed into a gathering of farmers in October, resulting in the deaths of the protesters and four other individuals, including a local journalist. According to reports, the son of one of Mr. Modi’s cabinet members is among those being investigated in connection with the incident.

Mr. Modi’s resignation might provide a much-needed boost to India’s democracy, according to Gilles Verniers, a political science professor at Ashoka University in Bangalore. Due to a fractured opposition and widespread support for the populist Mr. Modi, his administration has placed pressure on political opponents and taken steps to quash criticism online and in the news media, causing the government to become more inflexible.

Mr. Modi and the B.J.P. have encountered opposition in the past, but they have shown to be resilient in the face of adversity more often than not. In 2015, the administration abandoned plans to restructure agricultural land sales in the face of widespread protests, marking his most recent big setback.

After small firms were hit by Mr. Modi’s unexpected decision to phase out outdated paper money a year later, the government stuck to its guns. Und despite national protests against a bill that granted a fast road to citizenship for immigrants from all major religious religions in South Asia, with the exception of Islam, the country remained firm in 2019.

However, the party has lately suffered a setback, which is especially difficult in a country with a high ambitious population and aspirations to compete economically on the international arena.

The Indian economy suffered a significant setback when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a surprise national lockdown in March 2020 to combat the coronavirus. Following the conclusion of the first wave, the authorities became complacent, which resulted in a disastrous second wave that overflowed hospitals and crematoria.

The agricultural sector in India is in desperate need of reform, according to the majority of economists. Its fields produce certain products in such large quantities that they either rot in silos or are exported, while people in other parts of India suffer from starvation.

For the last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his followers have maintained their stance, characterising the farmers as secessionists and puppets in the service of opposition parties who are completely unaware of the benefits of agricultural reform.

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