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'Modi Asked If Farmers Died For Him': Decoding Satya Pal Malik's Rebellion

Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik is known to shoot off his mouth, but this is combative even by his standards.

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Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik launched what perhaps is the most serious attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi from within the BJP, terming the PM as being "arrogant" towards farmers.

Addressing a social function at Haryana's Charkhi Dadri, Malik said, "When I went to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the farmers' issue, I ended up fighting with him within five minutes. He was very arrogant. When I told him that 500 farmers had died, he said, ‘Did they die for me?’ I told him yes."

Malik claims that Modi then asked him to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

The governor initially claimed that Shah told him that the PM had "lost his mind," but later issued a clarification saying that the home minister didn't say anything disrespectful.

This is not the first time Malik has attacked the Centre. He had called the Modi government "arrogant" even during his speech at the Global Jat Summit in Jaipur in November 2021.

Whether Malik's narration is correct or not, is besides the point. His statements are significant in themselves.

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MALIK MAY BE A LOOSE CANON, BUT THIS IS AGGRESSIVE EVEN BY HIS OWN STANDARDS

Malik is known to shoot off his mouth. Even as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, he frequently made controversial statements, often without the backing of the Centre.

But as they weren't directed at the Centre, it didn't generate much curiosity. They were largely dismissed as Malik's eccentricity.

However, Malik's public positions on the farmers' protest against the farm laws have consistently gone against the Modi government. But his latest statements are aggressive even by his own standards. This is for two reasons:

1. His description of PM Modi as being "arrogant" towards farmers and allegation that the PM said "mere liye mare hain?" (did they die for me?) has the potential of causing direct political harm to the BJP. PM Modi has by and large had a teflon image on most issues. But the one charge that has stuck against him is of being "insensitive" towards farmers and the poor, as was clear in Rahul Gandhi's "suit boot ki sarkar" remark.

Even survey data suggests that PM Modi's popularity fell during April-May 2021 because he was seen as being insensitive to people's suffering due to COVID-19.

Therefore, the description used by Malik could end up reviving this narrative, should the Opposition use it effectively.

Malik's timing too is dangerous as it comes just before Assembly polls in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, that were the epicentre of the farmers' protest.

Even though Malik isn't a political heavyweight, any shift in the election discourse towards issues like farmers and the economy could be politically harmful for the BJP.

The criticism from Malik and also Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi work towards bringing back the focus on issues on which the BJP is weak.

2. Whether what Malik said is true or not is besides the point. It is important that for the first time, someone from within the BJP has insinuated that PM Modi and Amit Shah are not on the same page on a particular issue. Though Malik clarified that Shah meant no disrespect towards Modi, he did not completely retract his statement.

Such an allegation being made publicly, that too by a governor, is significant.

It is also interesting that despite all his statements, Malik has not been removed from his position. It remains to be seen how far he is able to weather the current controversy.

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WHAT EXPLAINS MALIK'S 'REBELLION'?

Malik is not from an RSS background. He is a socialist and was close to Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait. During Tikait's agitations against earlier governments, Malik has often acted as a mediator between the farm unions and the Centre.

Also significant is the fact that Malik is a Jat and made the statements against PM Modi at a predominantly Jat gathering.

Sources close to Malik say that he feels strongly towards the issues concerning farmers, particularly Jat farmers and this is the main reason why he has been speaking out against the government.

"He knows he has nothing to lose. The government won't give him any other position. Therefore he can say what he wants," a source close to Malik said.

The source also believes that the government may not remove Malik until the UP elections are over as they are wary of it making even a marginal difference in the sentiment among Jats.

Another individual who has closely worked with Malik said that the idea of "legacy" is playing in the governor's mind.

"He wants to be remembered, especially in his own region and community, as a leader who said the right thing when it mattered," the individual said.

Those close to Malik say that he isn't acting at "anyone's behest" in the BJP and it should not be seen as a challenge to PM Modi.

Whether it is a challenge or not, the timing and content of what he's saying can be harmful to the BJP.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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