A day after prime minister Narendra Modi’s announcement to repeal the contentious farm laws, front pages of major English newspapers termed the move a “climbdown”, a “dramatic u-turn” or that the government finally “relents” after a year of protests.
All of them carried pictures of jubilant farmers at Delhi’s Singhu border; visuals of the protests in Punjab and Haryana missing. At least two prominent dailies did not carry a picture of the prime minister on page one.
The editorial pages inside welcomed the step in the “democratic spirit” but hinted that it has something to do with poll outcomes in the upcoming Assembly elections in several states. However, most were consistent in reiterating the “merits” of the three laws.
A look at what the front pages mentioned
The Indian Express, in an eight-column banner headline on its Delhi edition, stated: "Farmers reap Modi climbdown".
Of the seven reports on the page, four were focussed on the NDA government’s decision, the opposition’s and farm unions’ response, and profiles of protesters at Singhu.
The other three pieces tried to analyse how the government “read it wrong” on the farm legislation or how “it may have held off the right to MSP” by now deciding to scrap them.
It seemed to be the only paper to dedicate a full front page to the issue.
The Times of India, in a two-deck headline on its Mumbai edition, chose to highlight what the PM said. "Apology to countrymen’: Couldn’t convince a section of farmers on agri laws, will repeal all three, says PM", read the headline.
The strap read: "18 months after promulgation and many bitter court, street, political and cyber battles, a dramatic u-turn".
The paper listed reasons behind the government’s decision: “timed for Gurpurab” to reach out to Punjab’s Sikhs, lack of any likely resolution and “tenacious farm stir”, concerns about “funding from Khalistan supporters”, a possible convergence for the opposition ahead of polls, and counter to “possible attempts to shift focus of stir”.
The headline on the front page of the Chennai edition of the Hindu read: "Govt relents, decides to spike farm laws". It gave a timeline of the farm agitation next to a picture of celebrations at the Singhu border.
The paper carried three reports linked to the issue on its front page; they detailed mostly the government’s decision, the farm unions’ strategy, and the opposition’s response.
The Hindustan Times, in a banner headline on the front page of its Delhi edition, stated: "Farm laws to go after year of protest". There were six reports above the half-page ad, all linked to the farm stir. "PM Modi says Union govt tried hard but failed to convey the benefits of legislation to section of farmers," read the strap below the headline. Two of the six pieces indicated a connection between the government’s decision and the upcoming elections.
"Jai Kisan", read the banner headline on the Telegraph’s Kolkata edition. The strap said, “Harvest of hope crushes years of hubris.”
The Hindu and Telegraph did not carry a picture of the prime minister on their front page.
The Business Standard carried a half-page package on the announcement. The banner headline stated: "Govt backs down on contentious farm laws". It was the only paper to point out that “600 lives” have been lost since the beginning of the sit-in at Delhi’s borders last year in a headline to a report.
Here is what the editorials wrote
The Indian Express opinion page carried its contributing editor Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s piece "The facade cracks". The decision “dents the government’s image of total control, but whether it leads to a constructive dialogue or a sharpening of contradictions remains to be seen,” wrote Mehta.
“The government is clearly nervous. But the source of that nervousness is not just simple electoral logic,” he wrote, pointing to “multiple security dilemmas on every front, from Kashmir to the Northeast” and “something about the framing of this decision that makes it more than just a question of immediate instrumental logic”.
Meanwhile, , written by the newspaper’s editorial staff, pointed to the “merits” of the farm laws. “The Centre’s farm laws were a much-needed attempt to address the stasis in agriculture by ensuring that farmers get the right price for produce, and have the freedom to sell where they want to. But, as this newspaper repeatedly underlined, the crisis began with the way in which the reforms were pushed through.”
The Times of India, interestingly, carried "two different takes on the political economy of repealing farm laws", except that they both were in favour of the laws.
“Let’s recognise that Modi tried hard,” was the headline to . “Why would an astute politician like Prime Minister Narendra Modi (which even critics agree he is) do something against farmers? Of course, the intelligentsia that opposed these laws never applied logic.”
The was by R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya magazine.
“Farm unions have managed to get their way by making emotional appeals in the name of being the nation’s ‘Annadata’. But they should not forget that they cannot work against the interests of the Annadata’s own Annadata – the taxpayer and consumer,” read the piece titled "Big cost to country, small gain for Modi".
The Hindustan Times , meanwhile, announced that “this newspaper continues to believe that the farm laws were an important economic step”. “But the government could have gone about it differently, and with a more collaborative mindset. Instead the reforms were first effected through the ordinance route.”
“Even though the government held discussions with farm groups, it made no headway in the face of a maximalist position adopted by the latter. Meanwhile, the atmosphere was vitiated by the regime’s political supporters demonising the protesters, linking them with terror groups and separatists,” stated the newspaper’s editorial.
The Hindu, in its “our take” section on the opinion page, to repeal the farm laws “a triumph of democracy”. “On the one hand, the tenacity of the agitating farmers that the BJP and state agencies could not break while on the other, the looming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, forced the ruling party’s hand. In bowing to public demand, Mr. Modi has shown flexibility and pragmatism. Farmers should not only withdraw the protest now but also show a more flexible approach regarding the path ahead to reform the sector,” the editorial wrote.
On the laws, its line was slightly different from the other papers. “The laws sought to reorganise India’s agriculture sector more in accordance with the principles of market economy. They would have redesigned the country’s food procurement and distribution mechanisms, triggering fears that the producers and consumers would be adversely affected, to the benefit of big companies.”
Meanwhile, TN Ninan, in his weekly column called "Weekend Ruminations", in the Business Standard, pointed to “a theory to parallel belief in the survival of the ‘fittest’ - propounded last year by the husband-wife team of Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods”.
“In Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity, they argue that Darwinian survival has to be seen alongside friendliness and the capacity for cooperative conduct, as it is these that have helped homo sapiens progress and prosper in comparison with our nearest evolutionary cousins,” he wrote.
“The friendlier an open society is to all its residents, with people erasing dividing lines between the included and excluded, the better the results of such cooperative cohesiveness. And the more the presence of groups inclined to exclusionary conduct, lynching or uncivil war, the greater is the need for institutional bulwarks to ensure the survival of the friendliest.”
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