Although many analysts in India are attributing the u-turn of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on three controversial farm laws to the electoral arithmetic, sources in New Delhi said the step was taken after some feedback from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the patron of Hindu right-wing groups. Its network had been conveying that these farm laws were creating a major wave of dissent among Sikh peasants and there was danger of Punjab returning to the early 80s when it had become a hotbed of militancy.
But this episode has taught a lesson to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government the hard way: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The revocation of three controversial farm laws has also dented the image of Modi, who for over years had projected himself as someone never succumbing to any pressure.
Two other decisions of the Modi government that is the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir are also in disarray. While even after a one-and-a-half-year of its passing, rules have not been framed to implement the CAA, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir questions the decision to scrap its special status and division of the state.
While on the face of it, it appears that the government realised that pushing the farmers to the wall could cost the party dearly in the upcoming elections. The assemblies of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab are going to polls next year and analysts had been warning that government can face a major backlash in these states.
But insiders told the Friday Times that it was the feedback from RSS and its grass-root network that forced the government to relent.
In the past 13 months, to discredit the movement demanding repealing of the three farm laws, BJP and its top leaders have called the Sikh farmers Khalistani supporters. They have been labelled agents of Pakistan and questions have been raised about the funding of this movement. But none of these issues has deterred the farmers from where they stand.
“Punjab has remained very organised. Every house in every village has taken turns to sit in the protest. They have carried their wheat and rice and have cooked their food. It is difficult to challenge their integrity,” explains Professor Rajender Pal Brar of Punjab University Chandigarh.
Sources in the government informed that it was brought to their notice that constantly labelling Sikhs as Khalistani and harsh treatment to them could lead to a crisis like that in the ’80s. This movement has penetrated every village of Punjab and if the government would make the youth upset, their anger could snowball into another militant movement in Punjab. The government which is struggling with a similar situation in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 cannot afford to have another unstable border state.
CAA and abrogation of Article 370
With almost 19 per cent of the Muslim minority already up in arms against the government on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, a prolonged face-off with the Sikh minority group would have led the government to deeper crises.
The government’s indecisiveness on the CAA and abrogation of Article 370 has done more harm than any good. Contrary to getting Kashmir closer to India and bringing peace, prosperity and development in the valley, two and a half years later, 837 people including 127 security personals have lost their lives. Against the government’s projection, no major industry has come to the valley and nor have Kashmiri Pandits gone back.
After having passed the CAA without due deliberation, the government has come to realise that the act would do more harm than good to the non-Muslims seeking shelter in India. Amongst the various nuances highlighted by the intelligence agencies, it was pointed to the government that it would be difficult for the Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan or Afghanistan to prove that they have faced persecution — failing which, granting citizenship would not be possible. Thus defeating the whole purpose to exclude Muslims and absorb the rest.
The Sikh Muslim proximities worry’s government
When Muslims were protesting against the CAA last year, they had received massive support from Sikhs of Punjab, who not only lent their voice but also ran community kitchens.
When Muslim students from Kashmir faced a backlash in India after Pulwama attack, it was Punjab that had given these students protection and safe passage back home. This growing harmony between the two communities can unite the masses against the ruling party. The contribution of the Sikh community at the time of the Covid pandemic or during any humanitarian crisis is hard to ignore. As a result, their protest got sympathy and support from every quarter.
Moreover, RSS- BJP has always tried to absorb Sikhs as Hindus and calls Sikhs its marshal arm, military wing. So like any staunch right-wing group that cannot afford a unity of the masses, the BJP too could not keep the Sikhs upset only to see them aligning with the Muslims.
And with the largest minority standing to confront the government, the country could be looking at another big crisis. And avoiding the union of two unhappy and dissatisfied communities could have only deepened the troubles of the government. To ensure peace and no further embarrassment for the government, Modi has made peace with the farmers and as for the Muslims, polarising Hindus could do the job.