From House to streets, how opposition amplified message

For Congress, Rahul Gandhi went on a three-day tractor rally in Punjab last year and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressed a series of kisan mahapanchayats in Uttar Pradesh

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced repeal of the three farm laws, the Opposition on Friday gave all credit to the protesting farmers for bringing the government with a brute majority to its knees, but the year-long standoff had seen a united opposition — although off the protest stage — waging a sustained campaign to help amplify the message from the street.

From passing resolutions in Assemblies seeking withdrawal of these laws to consistently raising the issue in Parliament — including boycotting the President’s customary address earlier this year to the joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha — and from joining the legal battle to forging a rare unity in and outside Parliament, the Opposition, perhaps for the first time in seven years, didn’t let go of the issue.

For Congress, Rahul Gandhi went on a three-day tractor rally in Punjab last year and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressed a series of kisan mahapanchayats in Uttar Pradesh, while other parties played their part to spread the opposition to farm laws beyond Delhi and the northern states — the DMK in Tamil Nadu, TMC in West Bengal, the Left in Kerala, Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, and RJD in Bihar, among others.

In fact, Rahul’s comment on January 14 predicting that the Centre will be forced to take back the laws, a video clip of which went viral on social media on Friday, was made in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. “I am very, very proud of what the farmers are doing. I fully support the farmers, and will continue to stand with them. Mark my words…these (farm) laws the government will be forced to take them back, Remember what I said,” the Congress leader had said.

While the protests did not have much echo in Tamil Nadu, DMK’s Assembly poll manifesto promised that if voted to power, its government would pass a resolution in House, asking the Centre to repeal the “discriminatory” laws. The DMK government passed the resolution in August.

The Bengal Assembly — like Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Kerala — passed a resolution against the laws in January, forcing BJP to launch an aggressive counter-campaign — “Ek Mutthi Chawal Sangrah”. Although the state does not have a mandi system and was not touched by the protests, the issue figured prominently in TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s speeches during the poll campaign. After election victory, Banerjee met BKU leader Rakesh Tikait in Kolkata. The RJD-led alliance’s manifesto for Bihar Assembly polls last year also promised to pass a Bill if voted in.

The SP organised kisan chaupals to register its protest and spread the movement.

While the Opposition tried to corner the government in Parliament over the Pegasus snooping scandal, the leaders tried to ensure that the farm issue was not eclipsed.

While many opposition leaders believe Friday’s decision came with an eye on Assembly polls next year, they take heart from the fact that the sustained agitations, even though not led by mainstream political opposition, can force the government to retreat. “What cannot be achieved by democratic protests can be achieved by the fear of impending elections! PM’s announcement on the withdrawal of the three farm laws is not inspired by a change of policy or a change of heart. It is impelled by fear of elections!” senior Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted.

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said BJP is getting “ominous signals” from its grassroots workers in the Hindi heartland, which compelled it to withdraw these laws. “They have realised that if they continue like this it will be Armageddon for them,” he told The Indian Express.

Chowdhury said the decision is a moral defeat for Modi. “The message for opposition parties is that united resistance can defeat the Modi juggernaut,” he said. Congress deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma argued that the government must have realised now that bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny while making laws will have consequences. “There will be a realisation now that bypassing legislative scrutiny while enacting laws shall always create tension and conflict,” Sharma told The Indian Express.

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