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BJP leaders call farm laws repeal ‘bitter pill’ but foresee better prospects in UP, Punjab

Party leaders say ‘main challenge’ will be to convince electorate in UP and Punjab that the decision is in national interest.

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New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders put up a brave front after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement repealing the three farm laws, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah describing it as a show of “remarkable statesmanship”

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the PM’s intention was to bring revolutionary changes in the lives of farmers but the government failed to explain the benefits of the laws to some farmers. 

About half-a-dozen leaders ThePrint approached for their responses were, however, circumspect. 

“It’s a kadwi dawai (bitter pill) that has to be taken keeping the political future in mind,” a BJP MP told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity. 

While party leaders believe the climbdown on the laws would help its cause in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab, they said the “main challenge” is to convince the electorate that the latest decision is also in national interest. 

The party sees a lot of ‘positives’ in the PM’s announcement in terms of political implications. 

“Parties had accused him (Modi) of being arrogant, but with the announcement he has shown statesmanship. He did so even while repealing the land acquisition law,” said a second leader. 

According to BJP leaders, the PM’s announcement would bring the party back in contention in Punjab, where it was relegated to the political margins after the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) walked out of its old alliance. The BJP is banking on the 38 per cent Hindu population in Punjab to bounce back, and is hoping to woo a section of Sikh voters, too, in an alliance with former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. 

“The PM has made an announcement with an open heart and this is bound to impact agitating farmers and is good for all. It will also remove all the confusion before polls among the Sikh community,” Naresh Bansal, a BJP MP from Uttarakhand, told ThePrint.

“We were not able to make the farmers understand that it was for their benefit, and hence PM Modi announced that the farm laws will be repealed. Farmers should now return to their farms and work in the nation’s interest,” said Dushyant Gautam, BJP general secretary, thanking the PM.

A third senior leader said: “The Congress has been facing massive infighting and despite Amarinder Singh’s announcement of a new party, the real benefit of an alliance could only come once the farm laws issue could be settled.” 

The leader added: “In his several meetings with the BJP brass, Amarinder had pointed out that a repeal of the farm laws was necessary and integral for any future alliance. Violent protests by farmers’ groups had made it difficult for local leaders to participate in political programmes. This will also give our Punjab campaign a fresh lease of life.” 

Also read: 5 reasons why farmers won the farm laws battle against Modi govt

To aid campaign in UP

The BJP has been on the back foot in western Uttar Pradesh, the region it started dominating in 2014, due to the farmers’ agitation. The Rashtriya Lok Dal has been regaining ground in the region, giving jitters to the ruling party. 

BJP leaders say the repeal of the farm laws would help it win over the Jat community, which supported the farmers’ agitation, even though their main concerns were sugarcane prices, electricity bills and MSP.  

“Jat community plays a pivotal role in deciding the fate of all Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, Rajasthan and western UP. Their support is not only crucial for assembly elections but national elections too. We are hopeful it will help win back the Jat support,” a fourth BJP functionary told ThePrint.

The BJP was troubled by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s decision to back the Samajwadi Party, the strong presence of the RLD in western UP, inflation due to continuous increase in petrol and diesel prices, and the alarming rise in unemployment due to Covid, sources said.

Recent opinion polls predicting a tough fight were also taken seriously by the party. 

A recent CVoter survey projected 150-160 seats for the Samajwadi Party in UP with a jump of 7.5 per cent in the vote share. The survey indicated BJP would secure 100 seats less than the 325 it won in 2017. 

BJP sources said internal surveys too predicted major losses in western UP, where the party won with big margins in 2017. State BJP leaders had already sensed the anti-incumbency and resentment of farmers, not only in western UP, but in the Braj and Awadh regions as well. It was only after this that Union Home Minister Amit Shah took charge of election management in the state, and also involved Defence Minister and former UP CM Rajnath Singh and party president J.P. Nadda to manage the three zones. 

Impact on other states

Although the farmers’ agitation in Uttarakhand was centred in Sikh-dominated Udham Singh Nagar district, it was affecting public sentiments in other parts of the state too, say BJP leaders.

In Haryana, the Manohar Lal Khattar government was on a sticky wicket, with farmers not allowing many legislators to even hold meetings in their constituencies. The biggest concern of the BJP was how long the support of Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party, who is crucial for the government’s survival, would hold up. Chautala was facing a lot of heat from his party’s core constituents, the Jats, over the farm laws, and his grandfather Om Prakash Chautala’s return to active politics after a decade-long prison term was further compounding his problems. The repeal of the farm laws has given a breather to Dushyant, who may hope to regain his lost support base in the next three years.    

“I think there are two political implications of the move. First, the losses that the BJP was to suffer in UP, especially in the western part, will be able to be arrested to a great extent. The farmers will now not say that they are angry. The BJP will regain its support base that was getting eroded,” said Sanjay Kumar, professor and co-director of Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. 

“In Punjab, I see a new alliance emerging as Amarinder had said he was open to aligning with the BJP if the laws are taken back. This alliance can damage the electoral prospects of the Congress,” he added.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Protests, failed talks, violence, deaths — timeline of farm laws before Modi govt’s U-turn


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