THE killing of eight people, four of them protesting farmers, after being run over by a vehicle allegedly driven by the son of the Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra has snowballed into a major political issue. With the elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab looming, the opposition parties have made the incident a rallying point to take on the government in UP and New Delhi. The top Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi rushed to UP but was detained on the way to the site of the accident. She later sat on a hunger strike. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav was also detained by the police from outside his residence in Lucknow where he staged a sit-in after being stopped from visiting Lakhimpur Kheri district.
The killings have also given fillip to farmers' protest which has now been going on for the past ten months. But the union government has stood its ground on the laws. Least that the government has been willing to do is to suspend the three controversial farming laws for 18 months. But the farmers want a complete repeal of the laws. They argue that the laws will only hurt their livelihoods and will only benefit large corporations. The situation remains deadlocked. The farmers, meanwhile, continue their siege to New Delhi, blocking its main entry points. The government, it seems, has now fewer options left but to accede to farmers' demand. More so, with crucial UP elections round the corner. If this happens this will be the first time that the Narendra Modi government will be forced to withdraw any of the laws it has passed so far.
One of the biggest charge against the BJP-led union government is that it is unilaterally passing far-reaching laws with a bearing on the lives of millions of people. This started with sudden demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes in November 2016 that plunged the country into a virtual chaos. Then followed the GST reform which crushed the small businesses. This was followed by the revocation of Article 370 that granted J&K its semi-autonomous status within the Indian Union. The move's fallout is still playing out in J&K and Ladakh, the former parts of J&K state, now downgraded into two union territories. Following this, the centre came up with Citizenship Amendment Act that ensured that only non-Muslim refugees from the neighbouring countries are entitled to Indian citizenship. Now the farmers' protest is taking place despite the pandemic. The best course for the government is to address the anxieties of the farmers and do everything to assure them that their livelihoods will not be threatened.
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