BJP brass felt there was an immediate need to resolve crisis as the optics of farmers marching to Delhi could have disastrous fallout in poll season.
New Delhi: Coming just ahead of the election season, the image of thousands of protesting farmers marching towards Delhi has the BJP top brass “deeply concerned” about the possible political and electoral consequences of this agitation.
The protest also comes at a time when the BJP-led NDA government is facing opposition backlash on several fronts, including the Rafale deal.
According to top sources in the party, it was felt there was an “immediate need to solve the issue and prevent a snowball”, which is why the BJP brought out its best bet in Home Minister Rajnath Singh to douse the fire.
“There was a deep concern. We realised there is no scope for any added anger, with polls barely months away,” said a party source who did not wish to be identified.
What made farmers angry
As part of Kisan Kranti Yatra, farmers from Uttar Pradesh under the umbrella of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) began their march on 23 September with a string of demands — from loan waiver to cut in fuel prices and implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. The issue escalated after farmers were stopped at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border Tuesday.
The BJP brass, according to sources, realised how the optics can harm the BJP and decided to bring in Rajnath Singh, who is a political heavyweight from Uttar Pradesh.
Singh held detailed discussions with Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and also spoke to BKU chief Rakesh Tikait to assure him that the government was keen to address the farmers’ demands.
After the midnight march, farmers called off their protest after reaching Kisan Ghat, the memorial of former PM Chaudhary Charan Singh, in Delhi.
‘Yogi couldn’t handle it’
Sources said the BJP brass was “forced to rope in Rajnath Singh” after it was felt that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had failed to manage the crisis, unlike his Maharashtra counterpart Devendra Fadnavis who appeared to be more adept at handling farmers’ protests.
The BJP leadership was concerned that the “optics of marching and protesting farmers would end up having national resonance if the issue isn’t curtailed soon”, said another BJP leader on the condition of anonymity.
The party is currently trying to assuage an angry upper caste voter, its traditional vote-bank. Upper castes have been upset with the BJP for what they view to be its efforts to woo backward communities, especially Dalits, and have been organising protests, including in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP is now also worried about Dalit backlash after the Supreme Court spoke of a “creamy layer” in reservations in promotions for SC/STs.
BJP facing combined opposition onslaught
The BJP government has also been battling an opposition onslaught on the controversial Rafale deal, as well as anguish about rising fuel prices. Given the already tricky ground, the sources said the party leadership felt “immediate damage control” was a must.
The Narendra Modi government has consciously, and consistently, been trying to cultivate a pro-farmer, pro-poor image. Late last year and earlier this year, farm crisis and rising farmer anger in various parts of the country, including in poll-bound states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, had left the BJP worried about losing support of sections of this constituency, a chunk of which it wrested from the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
In last year’s Gujarat assembly elections, the BJP had to face significant reverses in rural areas where cotton and groundnut farmers were unhappy about inadequate prices for their produce.
As part of its farmer outreach, the Modi government hiked the MSP of certain crops to 1.5 times the production cost earlier this year, fulfilling the promise the BJP had made as part of its 2014 campaign.