New Delhi, As hashtags bearing ‘RCEP’ and ‘No-RCEP’ started trending and his Twitter timeline was flooded with congratulatory messages, Ashwani Mahajan of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, who spearheaded months-long campaign against the free trade agreement sat in a small room in Delhi’s RK Puram strategising his next campaign.
In between writing a letter to government officials and answering phone calls congratulating him, Mahajan spoke to IANS, crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi instead.
“A lot of world leaders go to these international forums to sign trade deals. But Narendra Modi opted out of a deal. It has made him great in the eyes of people at large,” said Mahajan. Calling the contentious free trade deal as “bad” for the country, Mahajan said it would have crumbled India’s economy.
Opposition to RCEP saw an unusual common ground between the farmers and industrialists who together opposed it. Mahajan elaborated, “Whether it’s the dairy industry, steel industry, agriculture, small scale industries, automobile industry – all were asked whether RCEP will be beneficial to the country. All of them said, it would ruin the economy of the country”.
Earlier in October, Mahajan’s Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the Sangh affiliate accused the Ministry of Commerce of “twisting data” and virtually favouring foreign dairy companies at the cost of their Indian counterparts which may result in 50 million rural job losses.
So vociferous was SJM’s opposition to RCEP, that Mahajan had said, “It’s unfortunate that officials of Centre of Regional Trade (CRT) under Ministry of Commerce have been supporting the offer to reduce tariffs on milk and its products, by twisting the data of India’s milk production and projecting a huge shortage of milk in India in coming 10 years.”
But on Monday, Modi opted out of China-led RCEP, calling it against his “conscience” and asserting “there will be no compromise on India’s core interests.”
Asked on how tough it was for a Sangh affiliate to fight so brazenly against a BJP-led government, Mahajan had this to say, “SJM fights on policy issues. It doesn’t matter of the political leanings of the ruling party – left, right or centre. We fight against anti-people policies.”
While, the Congress-led opposition was quick to claim credit for that, Mahajan smiled. The SJM leader told IANS, “Where was Congress all these while? Did you see them anywhere? In fact it’s the Congress that forced India into RCEP. They should apologise to the nation”.
Upping the ante, Mahajan claimed that even former Commerce Minister Anand Sharma was “opposed to Congress’ opposition”. He alleged the Congress was faced with intra-party contradictions on this matter and joined the anti-RCEP bandwagon to accumulate political brownie points.
So what’s next for Mahajan? The co-convenor of the Sangh affiliate smiled while declining to answer. But sources say, Mahajan’s next target is the agri sector where the SJM leader is all set to mount a campaign against some multinationals.