Saturday 20 November 2021
Protestant Indian farmers prevailed after a year-long struggle. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had no choice but to bite the bullet and correct his course; he chose to repeal controversial farm laws that led to farmer protests across India. Some argue that the Modi government would not have recognized its defeat without the crucial elections scheduled for next year in some states, where farmers have become extremely hostile to BJP. It is doubtful, however, that the BJP will be able to appease the anger of farmers anytime soon.
Modi has made a name for himself as a strong leader. He first sought to fight his way against his rivals. But most of its sweeping reforms met with stiff resistance and were therefore put on hold. Armed with impressive parliamentary majorities, Modi may have thought this would be an easy path for his government as the opposition was too weak to resist, let alone pose a political threat to the BJP. But there appears to have emerged additional parliamentary opposition capable of acting as an effective countervailing force against the BJP.
The success of Indian farmers’ struggle is likely to inspire their counterparts in neighboring countries to confront their governments in a similar way to protect their rights and interests. Sri Lankan farmers have also been on the warpath, albeit for different reasons; Faced with the prospect of suffering huge yield losses due to the country’s haphazard switch to organic fertilizers, they are protesting a fertilizer shortage. The government is determined to move forward with its organic project no matter what, and its intransigence has provoked farmers beyond measure, as evidenced by the widespread protests, where the effigies of government politicians are set on fire. .
Modi’s reversal on farm laws would have been a huge disappointment to his ardent supporters who wanted him to be tough on his opponents and overcome resistance to BJP policies. Modi would have been more than happy to do so without the political risks that such a course of action entails. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also disappointed his supporters who wanted him to bulldoze his rivals. He himself said the other day that he could get caught by the skin of protesting peasants, but he did not want to do it. Such tactics have proven to be counterproductive in dealing with resistance all over the world, as seen in India. The Rajapaksa government resorted to coercive measures in a desperate attempt to quash teachers’ protests, but to no avail; he had to accede to all their requests.
Meanwhile, Indian farmers have taken to the streets to protest the deregulation of India’s agricultural sector, accusing Prime Minister Modi of favoring food businesses owned by his pal, Gautam Adani, known as the Rockefeller of Modi. Interestingly, the Adani group sought to secure the East Container Terminal’s deal here, but their plan took pear shape amid protests from the unions. However, it succeeded in concluding an agreement with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to develop and operate the West Container Terminal, in which it will hold 51% of the capital.
In Sri Lanka, too, additional parliamentary forces appear to have overtaken the political opposition, which is at war with itself instead of the government, and has failed to meet popular expectations. Opposition politicians are all hats and cattle, as they say.
Port workers were the first to shame the incumbent government, which sees its two-thirds majority as a wish-granting magic wand, and the sky is the limit. Then the warring teachers brought him to his knees. Farmers threaten their version of Dilli chalo (“Go to Delhi”) protest; they threaten to march on Colombo if they suffer crop losses due to the shortage of fertilizers. Worse yet, workers at the Ceylon Electricity Board are threatening a continuing strike if the government does not end its questionable deal with US energy company New Fortress.
The leaders of the SLPP had better learn from Modi’s ignominious mistake and quickly correct their course.