Interview: Akhilesh Yadav

Akhilesh Yadav: ‘The strongman image of the Prime Minister is in tatters’

Print edition : December 17, 2021

Akhilesh Yadav. Photo: Nand Kumar/PTI

Interview with Akhilesh Yadav, president of the Samajwadi Party.

Akhilesh Yadav, president of the Samajwadi Party and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2012 to 2017, spoke to Frontline on what the repeal of the laws means to farmers and democratic people’s movements in the country. Excerpts:

How do you view the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding the repeal of the farm laws? There is a stream of opinion that the move was dictated solely by electoral compulsions, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Of course, the fear of poor performance in the elections was a key factor that drove the Prime Minister to this announcement. While this is there for all to see, it would not be right to say that this was the sole factor. It has exposed very many shortcomings of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] government at the Centre and Narendra Modi’s leadership. Right from the time the farm laws were steamrolled, first through the ordinance route and then by stifling all democratic norms and parliamentary procedures both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, the BJP and its leaders were claiming it was for the benefit of the farmers and that there was no question of reconsidering it.

Also read: ‘A victory for democracy’

Their propaganda on the laws also had it that Modi was a strong Prime Minister who would never back down from a decision he had taken. Now, the BJP and its leadership stand exposed on both counts. The sustained agitation of the farmers has exposed the anti-farmer, anti-people core of the laws. It was this stinging public exposure that ultimately forced the announcement about withdrawing the laws. And, with the announcement, the strongman image of the Prime Minister is also in tatters.

The farm laws have been widely seen as driven by corporate interests and corporate monopolies. Do you think that the victory of the farmers’ agitation in getting them withdrawn marks a new beginning in the democratic people’s movements? Are we seeing a situation where the governments at the Centre and in the States would be increasingly forced to alter their neoliberal economic policy approaches that have been in place for the past three decades since 1991?

The year-long farmers’ agitation as a whole, as well as its victory in getting the farm laws withdrawn, certainly marks a watershed moment in the history of the country’s democratic people’s movements. This terrific triumph should inspire more such struggles in diverse sectors of polity and economy. However, it is too premature to define what the outcome of such struggles would be in the future. But, going by the track record of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the States, one cannot imagine that they would from now on suddenly realise the anti-people nature of their policies and turn over a new leaf. The party and its leaders have consistently promoted these policies both at the Centre and in the States.

Take the case of Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party [S.P.] government from 2012 to 2017 initiated a slew of measures for the benefit of farmers, including new Kisan Mandis [dedicated farmer markets] across the State. Farmers could bring their produce to these Kisan Mandis from anywhere in the State, negotiate their own prices above the minimum support prices (MSP) and try to make good profit. The facility was available for horticulture products too. Farmers were given board and lodging facilities too at the Kisan Mandis so that they could stay for a sufficient period of time and complete their sales. This was a path-breaking initiative of the S.P. government. But the BJP’s Adityanath has literally dismantled this progressive initiative and sold off the Kisan Mandis and facilities to private and corporate entities. There is nothing to show that there is a fundamental change in the BJP’s attitude.

Also read: How the battle was won

There is a stream of opinion that repealing the laws means subsidising the rich farmers of Punjab and Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. What is your take on this?

Those who are spreading these stories, whether they are politicians or BJP apologists, including those in the media, know fully well that these are absolute nonsense. You will have to be outright blind not to see the huge participation of marginal farmers and agricultural labourers in this agitation across northern and western India. Right through the one year that this agitation continued, it repeatedly demonstrated its all-round people orientation and credentials. Now the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding the withdrawal of the laws too has underscored this nature of the agitation.

There is also the contention that the repeal of the farm laws are a setback to economic growth…

Yet another vile propaganda by the BJP and its cohorts. After Modi’s announcement, the farmers have made it clear that they would not stop their agitation until the MSP is made legally binding across India for almost all major produce. Such a widespread MSP regime would actually boost the economy, from the ground upwards.

Also read: Masterstroke that misfired: BJP unlikely to gain in Uttar Pradesh

What in concrete terms do you think would be the electoral fallout of the agitation and the announcement regarding the withdrawal of the laws?

The withdrawal announcement has unmistakably exposed the BJP’s despondency and fear over the forthcoming elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. The BJP had no leg to stand on in Punjab even earlier and was on the point of being wiped out in the State. Now, this scenario will repeat in Uttar Pradesh too. One can easily deduce this from a hundred signals on the ground.

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