Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s retreat on farm laws cowardice or calculation?

Things are not looking good for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The once-ruthless doer is looking like a meek, helpless principal shoved aroun...

Things are not looking good for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The once-ruthless doer is looking like a meek, helpless principal shoved around by student union bullies, eager to give in to save his chair and dignity.

By agreeing to repeal the reformative farm laws after anarchy unleashed by the Opposition, Punjab’s agricultural middlemen or arthiyas, and shadowy forces like the ISI-backed Khalistanis, Modi has given credence to the growing impression that this nation can be ruled by the mob on the streets and not by the party elected to Parliament with 303 seats and enjoys a comfortable majority in both the Houses.

This is not the first time the prime minister has retracted his decision. In the first term, he had rolled back the Land Bill after shrill backlash from rivals.

But the man is looking increasingly infirm in his second term as prime minister. The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in 2019, but has since not been implemented. The Centre silently watched the barbaric post-poll massacre of BJP workers in Bengal. In spite of the new IT rules, Big Tech continues to find ways to undermine the government by favouring ideologies hostile to it. A casteless quota was created for the poor through the Constitution 103rd Amendment Act, 2019. But when it came to implementation, the Centre told the Supreme Court in 2020, that it is up to the states to roll it out.

And now, after the Republic Day marauding of Delhi by goons masquerading as farmers, gang-rape and public killings at the protest sites, the middlemen have got their way.

For a government, it seldom gets more dismal than this.

But knowing Modi, it would be premature to call this capitulation. These could well be strategic retreats to fight another day, focus on the outcome of the war even if a few battles are lost. The timing (Guru Nanak’s birthday) and language points to a strong political motive in Punjab. The BJP is right now not even a serious player in the state. It was accruing extreme negativity after farm laws were made to seem like an attack on Sikhs.

Now, with the repeal, players like Amarinder Singh and Shiromani Akali Dal would be amenable to team up with the BJP.

A public apology has great political power. Arvind Kejriwal’s apology after his first botched-up first term made him return to power with 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi. The PM’s apology on air could give BJP its first foothold in Punjab.

From the national security prism, both Pakistan’s ISI and China were fishing in Punjab’s troubled waters. While the last of Sikhs are being ethnically cleansed in Pakistan and Afghanistan, images of a so-called Sikh-Muslim unity were gently being floated. Anti-Hindu sentiments were being fanned in Punjab and among Sikhs. The repeal of farm laws blunts that.

And finally, the core thought-engine of the current RSS-BJP disposition believes that staying in power long enough is of utmost importance to bring about the long-desired civilisational reset. Years in power makes most things fall into place. For this leadership, a pragmatic retreat is a lot more crucial than a bold, idealistic charge.

In his book A Short History of Aurangzib, one of India’s finest historians, Jadunath Sarkar portrays a telling picture of the Battle of Dharmat. At one point of the battle, Aurangzeb’s troops had their backs on the wall.

“The Rajputs, flushed with success, swept onward and pierced into the heart of Aurangzib’s vanguard. This was the most critical moment of the day; if the Rajput charge were not checked, all would be over with Aurangzib,” he writes.

But raw courage, instead of quiet strategy, did the Rajputs in. “All the six Rajput chieftains engaged in the charge were slain. Hopelessly outnumbered now, assailed in front, right, and left, and cut off from their rear, the Rajputs were slaughtered after performing frantic deeds of valour.”

The civilisational war is too precious to sacrifice for the glory of righteous courage. Perhaps time will show Modi’s apparent acts of cowardice in a different light.

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