Lucknow: The repeal of the contentious farm laws may douse some anger among farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, but this itself is unlikely to turn the tide in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to opposition leaders and political analysts. They say that more than the farm laws, the agitated farmers in this region are concerned about guaranteed minimum support price (MSP), sugarcane dues, diesel prices and high power tariffs.
BJP leaders, however, believe that the repeal of the contentious laws will bring the Jat voters back to the party fold.
Western UP is a region of farmers dominated by primarily Jats and Muslims. The Jats had overwhelmingly voted for the BJP in the 2017 elections.
Of the 71 assembly seats across 14 districts in western UP, in which Jats play a significant role, the BJP had won 51 in 2017. That number rose to 52 after the lone Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) MLA Sahender Singh Ramala joined the BJP. The Samajwadi Party (SP) had won 16 seats, the Congress two while the BSP and RLD had won one each.
This time around, the RLD-SP alliance had been hoping to eat into the BJP numbers due to the farmer agitation. Speaking to ThePrint, RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary said the alliance is unperturbed by the repeal of the laws.
“Over the last year, several BJP leaders had labelled the farmers as andolanjeevis (perennial protesters) and desh virodhis (traitors). Why will they vote for them now? They are not very thankful to this government even after this decision too,” he said.
“This government has bowed to public pressure. Until yesterday, they were saying the Jats are not farmers. Today they are saying that farmers have benefitted,” he added. “Yesterday farm laws were beneficial, today the rollback is beneficial. So in all, this is just propaganda for elections. But western UP farmers are with us, and they will continue to support us.”
Former UP CM and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav had also alluded to the political angle in the repeal of the laws. On Friday, while speaking to reporters in Lucknow, he said the central government’s decision had been driven purely by the BJP’s fear of losing the UP elections. “Saaf nahi hain inka dil, chunaav ke baad phir le aaenge bill (These guys’ hearts aren’t pure. They will bring back the bill once the elections are over),” he said.
Other leaders in the SP told ThePrint that the only thing the BJP has achieved with the repeal is that its leaders will face less hostility in the region.
“A major section of Jats are with the SP-RLD alliance. They are not going to the BJP but it’s true that at least now, BJP MPs and MLAs can meet the public more freely than earlier because in several places the public had boycotted them in Jat lands. Black flags were shown to them in several places,” said Jat leader Harendra Malik, a former Rajya Sabha MP who recently switched sides from the Congress to the SP.
He added that the farm laws aren’t the only agrarian issue in the region.
“Thousands of sugarcane farmers have not received their dues. Western UP is a sugarcane belt, and parties lose here on sugarcane issues,” he said. “Farmers are also hurt by high electricity bills, and so why would they vote for the BJP? I am sure they will support our alliance.”
A source in the SP told ThePrint that the party will now turn its focus to other farmer issues. “The party is now focusing on several other local issues such as stray animals, electricity bills, farmer suicides, and urea shortage among others,” the source said. “The party has asked all local leaders of western UP to make a list of such problems, which will be included in the party’s manifesto.”
BJP hopeful repeal will earn poll reprieve
The state BJP unit is heaving a sigh of relief, and is hopeful that the repeal of the laws will swing the tide back in its favour in western UP.
“It’s a good decision for us now. We will assure farmers in our belt that our government is very pro-farmer. Farm laws were not bad but opposition leaders propagated it like it’s a bane for farmers,” said Yogesh Dhama, the BJP MLA from Baghpat. “One chunk of Jats also got affected due to such messaging. But now PM Modi has taken away the opposition’s chief poll plank. So I am hopeful that the majority of famers will vote for the BJP.”
His views were echoed by Chandramohan, the state BJP secretary responsible for the party’s activities in western UP.
“It’s a welcome step by PM Modi. Farmers who were agitated with the farm laws will now come back to us,” Chandramohan said. “They are also our people though opposition parties tried to woo them by creating a negative narrative against the BJP. But by heart they were with us, and now they will vote for us.”
Another BJP MLA, who did not want to be quoted, however admitted that the farm laws had alienated a section of the Jat farmers.
“It’s a big relief for all of us who work in the Jat belt. A section of Jat farmers were getting united with the opposition’s Muslim+Yadav vote-bank but now they will understand our care for them and come back to us,” the MLA said. “Non-Yadav OBCs are with us, Gurjars are with us; so, if a major chunk of Jats vote for us, then we will get a landslide victory here again.”
Political analysts, however, do not share the BJP’s optimism.
“The repeal of the farm laws has come just a few months before the assembly polls. Now the opposition will definitely highlight that it is politically motivated to get farmer votes, especially that of the Jats,” said Professor Kaviraj, a UP-based political analyst. “If the repeal had happened earlier, it would have been more favourable to the BJP but I think they are late now. Apart from these three farm laws, farmers are also agitated by other issues such as MSP, sugarcane farmers dues, urea, and stray animals. If you visit a village, you may see every second person talking about awaara pashus (Stray cows).”
“Apart from this, a major section of Jats in western UP are now behind the RLD, which has allied with the SP,” he added. “This combination will have an impact of over 35 per cent of the votes in western UP if you combine Jats, Muslims, Yadavs and some other OBCs there.”
On the other hand, Professor Pawan Sharma, a political science faculty member at Meerut University, said the farm laws repeal will not be a poll issue at all.
“The public will vote on issues of development and other local factors. A smaller chunk may vote on the issue of nationalism because it’s still there among the masses, especially the youth,” he said. “So to analyse the repealing of the farm laws as a ‘game changer’ is incorrect. Earlier tto, I think farm laws were not the only issue. In western UP politics, local issues play a major role.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)