In the early hours of Friday (November 19) Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped the bomb that the three farm laws introduced by his government in 2020 were set to be repealed by the next session of the parliament, that is, the Winter session, which is slated to begin on November 29. The farmers blocking the national capital and its borders certainly rejoiced at the announcement, but a majority of the public was shellshocked to see the government bend down in defeat.
Whether the farm laws were good or bad for the farmers is a separate discussion for another time, but the decision to cower down and accept the violence diktat of the mob that has logjammed Delhi for over a year certainly sets a dangerous precedent for future events.
However, this is not the first time that the Modi government has pulled its hand back after being put under the pump by a raucous, violent mob of protestors. It did the same in the case of the Land Acquisition Ordinance and emulated a similar feat when it came to upholding Supreme Court’s decision to mellow down the draconian SC/ST Act.
Pulling the punches – a trait seen first in NDA-1:
In the early days of NDA-1, the Modi government had brought in nine main amendments to the 2013 Land Acquisition legislation through an ordinance, and subsequently as part of a bill. Out of these nine, six including the provisions dealing with consent clause, social impact assessment, replacing the term private company with private entity became the bone of contention for the relatively inexperienced Modi administration.
As a result, the opposition coalesced, with Congress nearly decimated in the general elections a few months back, finding its footing amidst the kerfuffle. The clause to obtain land without the owner’s consent in some cases formed the fulcrum of the protests, as farmers poured in and joined the opposition.
Although the motive of the government was to speed up the land acquisition process for developmental work, it couldn’t communicate it to the main stakeholders. The opposition seized in on the initiative, dialed up the pressure, and forced the government to take a step back. Though the Land Acquisition Bill was cleared in the Lok Sabha, it met with stiff opposition in the upper house where the BJP and its allies fell short of numbers.
In one of his Mann ki Baat correspondences, PM Modi informed the country that land ordinance, aimed at making it easier for companies to acquire agricultural land, will not be reissued. He stated, “I have decided that it should be allowed to expire. It means restoration of the situation that prevailed before my government took over,”
Akin to today’s decision of repealing the farm laws, the government’s agreement to bring back crucial clauses related to the consent of affected families and social impact assessment in the acquisition law came weeks ahead of the Bihar assembly elections in 2015, which incidentally, the BJP lost.
SC/ST act and the government’s surrender:
The misuse of the SC/ST act prevalent throughout the country made the Supreme Court strike down some of its clauses in 2018, but the Union government again introduced and passed a new bill in parliament in order to ensure that those clauses remain.
Reported by TFI, in a 2018 verdict, the Supreme Court had made a provision for anticipatory bail to offenders under the law. However, after strong protests against the dilution across the country, the Modi government gave in to the demands and removed this provision to bring the law back to its original draconian form.
The government’s version of the bill stated that no preliminary inquiry will be required for registering a criminal case, and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.
The unjust use of SC/ST Act:
No one is arguing that there is no caste oppression in the society, but any law should not have provisions that can be used against the common people by a certain community. The repeated misuse of the SC/ST act shows that it needs to be amended. However, the Modi administration has preferred to take a timid approach, fearing losing favor from the SC-ST class.
As a result, several cases have emerged over the years where abuse of the SC/ST act has led to dangerous consequences. The state of Maharashtra had been rocked with the suicide of its ‘Lady Singham’. Range Forest Officer Dipali Chavan-Mohite, who after being repeatedly sexually harassed by a senior forest officer named Vinod Shivkumar, was threatened by Vinod himself to frame her under the SC/ST Act, and Dipali consequently took the extreme step.
28-year-old Dipali, posted in the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MRT) in Amravati, Maharashtra, shot herself to death at her official quarters. A purported suicide note that she left behind revealed that she allegedly faced sexual harassment and torture at the hands of an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) Vinod Shivkumar.
More recently, Munmum Dutta, a famous TV actress who appears on the popular show Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashmah, was booked under Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST act for using a casteist slur in a video.
Questions are now being raised and rightly so, over the Modi government’s soft spot for the rioters and mob protestors. The government is yet to go toe-to-toe against the mob justice evangelists in its 7 years in power to assert the dominance.
Some netizens have cast aspersions that if Shaheen Bagh was not uprooted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, even CAA could have met a similar fate. Ever since passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the government has been sitting quietly on the NRC front. With bolstered protestors set to launch another renewed front against the introduction of NRC, one fears for the worst.
There might be a bigger game plan for PM Modi and his government. However, at this time, a layman is finding it hard to decipher the developments.