By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Farmers’ sit-in protest against the three farm laws at Delhi borders completes seven months today. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella organization of as many as 40 farmers’ unions leading the agitation, is knocking at Rajbhavans across the country in form of demonstration to mark the occasion as “Kheti Bachao, Loktantra Bachao Diwas” (Save Agriculture, Save Democracy Day). Under these events that meet the eyes is its immense political significance that may spill over even beyond the five states going to polls early next year, including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where majority of the agitating farmers had come from, hundreds of them even lost their lives, thousands of them braved the biting cold, scorching sun, and heavy rains during the protests, and still staging the protest.
Though the farmers’ agitation is apolitical, the SKM had decided just before the Vidhan Sabha Elections early this year to campaign against the Modi government that brought the three controversial farm laws which the agitating farmers have branded as “anti-farmer”. During the election campaign, the farmers’ leaders asked farmers in all election bound states not to vote for the BJP. It is very hard to quantify its exact political impact on the political fortunes of the BJP, but the party’s defeat, especially in West Bengal where it had aspired to snatched the rein of power from TMC, bar us to rule out its huge impact. It is in this context, the farmers’ agitation entering eighth month has some special significance.
The beginning of the election process to the five states is yet six months away but political parties have already started manoeuvering their permutation and combinations within and with other political parties on prospects of their alliances. Vidhan Sabha elections to the four states – Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, and Punjab – are due to be completed by March 2022. Elections in Uttar Pradesh are due to be completed by Mid-May 2022. Punjab and Uttar Pradesh has become most sensitive states as far as farmers and their support to or opposition of political parties are concerned. The moves of the political parties in recent times have already reflected this sensitivity, such as in Punjab based Shiromani Akali Dal’s leaving the BJP-led NDA and Samajvadi Party’s efforts of reworking its alliance in Uttar Pradesh. The political churning in the poll bound states seems to be based on ‘lost illusion’ of the people in general, and disenchantment of farmers from BJP and its present and former alliance partners in NDA in particular.
We have already seen the impact of farmers’ anger in the local body elections in Punjab, where the BJP candidates could not even run their election campaigns, because they were threatened by the farmers to welcome them with ‘wreath of shoes’ if they went to their areas for campaigning. It was an ominous sign for the very electoral democracy of the country, but it happened indicating a highly restive society. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had already left NDA in protest against the controversial three farm laws that seek to bring corporate to the farm sector. Farmers in the state are still against the SAD because they feel the party an opportunist which supported the BJP at the centre, and they severed their ties only after the laws were enacted in September 2020 fearing the backlash back in farmers dominated Punjab which was on the war path against the legislations. In 2017 elections, SAD had won only 15 seats out of 117. Now its position has further weakened. INC had won 77 seats and ruling the state, and the Delhi based AAP had won 20 seats. Farmers, though not much happy with INC because it had surrendered to the pressure of the Centre in implementing the new procurement system for the first time in the state during the Rabi Procurement Season 2021, that sought to remove the age old Mandi system and introduced Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system. Since the state did not have capacity for verification on account of very low strength of staff and officials, the mandi people are very much there even in the new system. It may be noted that agitating farmers are also against the dismantling of the old Mandi system. In this scenario political prospects of AAP is somewhat brightened, and the real contest would surely be between INC and AAP.
As for the elections in Uttar Pradesh is concerned the BJP has great stakes there, because in a house of 403, it had won 309 seats in 2017 Vidhan Sabha election, but almost all the political commentators now agree that it would not be easy for the BJP government to return to power this time because the people have lost illusions about BJP-rule both in the state under Yogi’s leadership, and in the Centre under Modi’s. BJP’s poor performance in recent local bodies’ poll is an indication of its weakening
Among several reasons, the anger of the farmers is easily perceivable in the rural areas of the state, particularly in the Western Uttar Pradesh and surrounding districts from where farmers have come to Delhi border as Ghazipur. In the present circumstances, the balance is tilted towards Samajwadi Party (SP) which had won 47 seat in 2017. Bahujan Samaj Party had won only 17 seats and it has been losing its support base all along these years. No wonder, keeping in mind the overwhelming support of farmers, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav in reshaping his political moves, and has already scripted alliance with parties such as RLD having considerable base among farmers, and is in talk with several others. Main contest would thus be between BJP and SP in which farmers are going to play a very significant role.
Farmers’ agitation began on November 26, 2020 against the three farm laws which farmers call “anti-farmer” and the Modi government maintaining these to be “pro-farmer”. Farmers demand their repeal, and the government bent on implementing them. Eleven rounds of talk between the two parties from October 14, 2020 to January 22, 2021 did not yield any result. Modi government is testing the patience of the farmers with no offer of talks, and the farmers continue to agitate, not only in Delhi, but across the country. Its political and social repercussion could soon be felt more than ever before if the issue is not resolved at the earliest. (IPA Service)