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Modi's minister mediating with farmers

By Aditi Phadnis
December 29, 2020 11:31 IST
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Heckling, confrontation and strong-arm tactics don't come to him easily, reveals Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo
 

Narendra Singh Tomar, India's agriculture minister, has replaced Rajnath Singh as the chief negotiator dealing with the farmers who are protesting outside Delhi and are swelling in numbers.

Why Rajnath Singh came into the picture is not clear -- after all, as agriculture minister, Tomar should have been in charge from day one.

But he's now in the driver's seat, and is possibly more amenable to taking directions from Home Minister Amit Shah than the defence minister.

Tomar is a mild-mannered man.

Never in his life has he been pitchforked into the kind of controversy in which he finds himself.

Currently a Lok Sabha MP from Morena, Madhya Pradesh, Tomar might not be the most charismatic minister India has had, but he has never raised his voice at anyone.

Tomar's area of influence is the Gwalior-Morena-Guna belt in Madhya Pradesh.

In 2014, he contested the Gwalior Lok Sabha seat and defeated the Congress's Ashok Singh comprehensively.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, he was moved to adjoining Morena because the BJP warned him that he could lose from Gwalior.

This must have been a blow because politically, Tomar has worked extensively in the Gwalior area.

He was president of the Gwalior unit of the BJP youth wing from 1980-1984.

In 1983, he was elected councillor and busied himself in local politics till 1998 when he entered the Madhya Pradesh assembly.

He became a minister in the BJP government from 2003 to 2007, thus serving both Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Uma Bharti, a challenge as the two leaders are as different from each as chalk and cheese.

He was also chief of the BJP's MP unit, leading the party to victory in two elections, back to back.

His greatest strength was his close relationship with Chouhan who was convinced that with him holding the reins of the organisation, his own position would be safer than anyone else in the MP BJP.

This was largely because of Tomar's personality -- self-effacing and unchallenging.

Unfortunately, his representation hasn't done much for the region to which he belongs.

Eastern Madhya Pradesh continues to be largely underdeveloped and with a substantial tribal population, even more so.

While Bhopal and Indore have seen urbanisation, eastern MP remains neglected even on agricultural indices, compared to the rest of Madhya Pradesh.

The BJP has never thrown up a major leader from this area after Vijaya Raje Scindia, though Tomar was promoted by then BJP president Kushabhau Thakre.

He met Narendra Modi at the home of Jana Sangh leader N K Shejwalker where Modi would stay as RSS pracharak when he visited MP.

In 2009, he entered the Lok Sabha.

When he won the Gwalior seat in 2014, he became minister in the first Modi government and held such important portfolios as mines, steel, labour and employment and later, rural development and panchayati raj.

You would think that the government -- and indeed Tomar himself -- would have learnt something from the Centre's abortive move to change laws relating to land acquisition then -- when the opposition was able to successfully mount the campaign that if the law was amended, farmers' land would be acquired for multiplexes and shopping malls.

Finally, the government had to abandon the proposed changes.

In this case, however, Tomar's brief is to persuade the farmers to see things from the government's point of view.

As crisis intervention, this is a more challenging job.

Obviously persuasion, which is Tomar's forte, is not going to cut it.

The larger the number of farmers hunkering down outside Delhi, the harder it will be to dislodge them.

The only solution is to break the groups from within by causing disunity among the ranks.

There are indications that this could be part of the government's tactics going forward.

Tomar has no ego and is unsuccessfully trying to tell leaders they shouldn't either.

Heckling, confrontation and strong-arm tactics don't come to him easily.

But persuasion seems to have run its course with the farmers.

He, along with Shah, will have to use politics to negotiate economic reform.

If they succeed, it will be a lesson for leaders in the future.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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