Buzz in BJP: Biggest gain for Modi’s image

After digging its heels for more than a year over the contentious farm bills, the announcement of their withdrawal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday morning is expected to give moral high ground for the BJP and its leaders to leverage ahead of key elections coming up next year.

Although the announcement did not leave many BJP leaders upbeat given that they had been defending and lauding the legislations as “path-breaking” reform in the agriculture sector, a number of senior leaders agreed that the move would “transform the Prime Minister’s image into a benevolent and sensitive leader”.

At least five senior party leaders, including three from Uttar Pradesh, pointed out that the BJP’s leadership had to “take the sensitive security situation in the border state of Punjab where vested interests were taking advantage of the uneasiness among a section of farmers” over the farm bills.

Politically, a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh said, it would help the BJP gain ground in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh where farmers have been protesting over the bills and have been leading protests demanding the repeal of the bills. “In Punjab, BJP needs to build its base as we have been fighting elections in alliance with the Akali Dal. This announcement would keep the windows open for an alliance with Captain Amarinder Singh (former chief minister who quit from the Congress and announced the formation of a new party). In Uttar Pradesh, it will help us regain ground among the Jat community,” he said.

Farmers celebrate after PM Narendra Modi announced the repealing of the three farm laws, at Singhu Border in New Delhi.

Even as party leadership took refuge in the farmer agitation being limited to Punjab, parts of Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, the October 3 incident in Lakhimpur Kheri where protesting farmers were mowed down had intensified the anguish against the government.

The leaders also pointed out that the party could not afford increasing uneasiness among the Sikh community against the BJP and Modi’s leadership. “With the situation at the India-China border areas becoming volatile and precarious, the party leadership had to take a call on the farm bill issue as vested interests like Khalistanis have been trying to take advantage of the growing tension among the Sikhs against the BJP in the border state. The Prime Minister has put the nation first,” said another BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh.

As the Sikh farmers were protesting at the Delhi borders, the central government recently reopened the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on the requests of the Sikh community. On Friday, the BJP insiders were hurriedly preparing a “background on Modi’ s long term connection with the Sikh community” citing the “ close bond” he had developed during his “ few years in Punjab and Chandigarh during his political work”. They also pointed out “Sikhs and their Holy Books were rescued from Afghanistan” after the Taliban’s invasion of Kabul. In December last year, on the occasion marking the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Modi had paid a surprise visit to the gurdwara in Rakabganj in the national capital.

Modi’s move to withdraw the bills, despite the BJP having brute majority in the Lok Sabha and adequate support in the Rajya Sabha, would take away the sting out of the Opposition’s aggressive strategy against the government in the Winter Session beginning November 29.

The biggest gain out of this decision would be to the image of Modi, which had faced a dent during the second surge of Covid.

“It would help the party to have a moral high ground before the elections. The message would be this – despite the support for the acts from different parts of the country and the majority, Modiji is sensitive to people’s sentiments and that he wants to take everyone along,” said a party leader.

He added: “It could be the beginning of another phase in his political life. So far, he has been established as a strong and decisive leader. But now there could be a transformation into a benevolent and sensitive leader.”

However, at least two party leaders from Uttar Pradesh, whom The Indian Express has spoken to, were not excited about the announcement. “In Uttar Pradesh, it does not seem to be making a lot of political impact, because the state has more smaller farmers and they were benefiting out of the farm bills. Besides, we have been campaigning across the country that the farm bills were beneficial to small farmers. But we can say that the Prime Minister has taken a more democratic, sensitive and a statesman-like approach. For the BJP, the nation and its security come first,” said a BJP MLA.

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