Chandigarh: Fissures have emerged within the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) — the umbrella body of farmers’ unions that led the protests against the farm laws now repealed by the Narendra Modi government — with some leaders making “political moves” ahead of the Punjab assembly polls next year.
While some union leaders have openly started campaigning, others are believed to be in talks with different political parties, who are seeking the support of farmer unions for the forthcoming elections. These developments have irked many SKM leaders who believe that the unions should wait for the formal closure of the agitation before pursuing political ambitions.
The SKM’s antipathy towards politicking or even allowing political leaders at protest sites is well known, but some kisan union leaders have defied mandates to stay apolitical. In July, the farmers’ body temporarily suspended one of its most prominent leaders, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, for suggesting that farmers should fight the 2022 assembly elections. However, the 60-year-old Haryana president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), who has fought elections before, is undeterred and has started campaigning for his “Mission 2022” in Punjab, holding rallies and public gatherings across the state to encourage famers to take part in the elections.
SKM threatens ‘black flags’, but Chaduni undeterred
On Sunday, following a meeting of the 32 farmer unions of Punjab, senior SKM leader Balbir Singh Rajewal told mediapersons that the farmers’ body was opposed to Chaduni’s Mission 2022, and that he would be treated like any other politician. “Farmers will show Chaduni and his supporters black flags,” Rajewal said.
Rajewal told ThePrint Wednesday that the SKM’s stance on farmers’ unions participating in politics was clear. “The priority is the agitation. All demands have not been met, and till that time, the protest will continue as it is. Politics can wait,” he said.
“Chaduni is going around saying whatever he wants. Everyone (the other unions) is very unhappy with him. If a decision has been taken that the agitation will remain apolitical, everyone should abide by that decision,” he added.
Asked if he will contest polls, Rajewal said he did not want to comment on his union’s future moves.
The SKM’s disapproval has had no impact on Chaduni and his political mission. His latest round of meetings was in district Sangrur Tuesday, where he addressed three political rallies at Bhawanigarh, Dhuri, and Sunam. In every constituency he has also been announcing the name of a “halqa sewadaar”— functionaries tasked with forming block- and district-level wings.
Chaduni has declared that he sees nothing wrong in his activities. “Why are their (Rajewal and other SKM leaders) stomachs aching if I am campaigning? I am not using the SKM’s name. I am getting the people of Punjab together under Mission 2022. Agitation is one way of getting things done and political power is another,” he told mediapersons in Bhawanigarh Tuesday.
Chaduni added that while he hoped to field candidates in all the 117 constituencies in the state, he will not be contesting polls himself. “We want to create a Punjab model from 2022 to 2024 which will be replicated nationally,” he said.
Differing views among farmers’ unions
While Chaduni has laid his cards on the table, several other farmer leaders are apparently in covert talks with political parties.
“There are offers of tickets to contest polls from all the prominent parties to almost every leader. Some political parties are trying to settle terms on which the unions can declare support for them before the elections. However, no one will come out in the open with any declaration till the agitation is not formally called off,” Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary of BKU-Dakaunda, part of the 32 farmer unions from Punjab leading the agitation, said.
“Any office bearer of the union above the block level has to give up their position and then he or she can contest elections,” he added.
Dr Darshan Pal, president of the Krantikari Kisan Union (KKU) and a senior member of the SKM, told ThePrint that even if union leaders were discussing political opportunities, they were expected to not make any open moves yet. “If some union leader is dealing with political parties without our knowledge, we really cannot do much. But till the agitation ends, none of these organisations are expected to make any overt political move,” he said.
Asked if he would be contesting polls, Pal said, “No I am not”.
BKU-Ugrahan, which is one of the largest farmer unions in Punjab and part of the SKM (but not among the 32 unions that met Sunday), has also announced that it will not participate in the elections in any way.
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of the union, told ThePrint Wednesday that staying away from elections was part of the union’s “written constitution”.
“If we allow our leaders to participate in elections, then BKU-Ugrahan becomes an organisation that divides rather unites farmers. The reason we are such a large body is because we have never vied for political power,” Kokrikalan said, adding that any farmers’ union that entered the poll fray would face the same hard questions as any other political party.
“We tell our supporters to question all political parties about what they will do for the farmers. In these elections too, we will do the same thing. Even if other kisan unions come into the poll fray, they will have to face our questions,” he said.
Other unions are, however, more open to political activities.
Gurinder Singh Koomkalan, press secretary of BKU-Lakhowal, said the union’s leaders could support any political party and also contest polls.
“We have been declaring support for different political parties over the years depending on what they offer to do for the farmers. Before each election, we hold meetings with our supporters at the district and block levels, and then a decision is taken if we should declare support for any party. Then we hold meetings with various political parties and ask them what they intend to do for the farmers. Then we decide,” he said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.