New Delhi: The Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) — the political front of 22 farmers’ unions which had taken part in the agitation against the Narendra Modi government’s now-repealed farm laws — failed to win a single seat in the Punjab assembly polls.
The political fate of its leaders now is uncertain — while some say there is still room for them in Punjab, others say their poll adventure has come to an end.
Their allies in the farmers agitation, who were against contesting the elections, have also distanced themselves from the SSM.
The SSM contested in all 117 seats in Punjab. Even its prominent leaders, such as Balbir Singh Rajewal, the face of the front who contested from Samrala, got around 4 per cent votes, and Prem Singh Bhangu, who contested from Ghanaur, struggled to cross 2 per cent of the voteshare, according to the Election Commission records.
The efforts of SSM general secretary Kanwalpreet Pannu, who did not contest polls but supported candidates across seats in the Manjha region, also seem to be in vain.
“There are two primary reasons why the election adventure of the farmers did not work out,” said Manjeet Singh, chief spokesperson of the SSM.
“First, the farmers’ unity is fragile. One may see them as individuals united by one occupation, but they are divided by political affiliations. Second, there is an immense power struggle. When some leaders said that they would contest polls, others started acting as major hurdles in their way,” he alleged.
“However, I would not say that this is the end of their politics. If a party like the AAP could come to Punjab and carve out a space for itself, why not farmers’ groups? But then, for that to happen, they definitely need to introspect and chalk out better strategies,” said Singh.
ThePrint approached Rajewal through phone calls and WhatsApp messages, but he did not respond till the time this report was published.
Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Ugrahan faction, known as BKU (Ugrahan) — which did not contest the polls — said the political future of Rajewal and the other SSM members remains uncertain now.
“The masses supported these leaders when they stood against the three farm laws. They started assuming that the same masses would support them in electoral politics. That is where they went wrong. Now their future is uncertain — they have distanced themselves from the pressure group of farmer unions and they have failed in electoral politics as well,” said Kokri Kalan.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of farmers’ unions which led the agitation against three controversial farm laws — and from which the SSM essentially sprouted — has now called a meeting of its members on 14 March in Delhi to decide the fate of the SSM leaders.
Decision to contest, followed by rift
Rajewal launched the SSM in December 2021, after prolonged discussions between him and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal did not yield any results, said senior political functionaries in both the parties.
The SSM is a group of 22 farmers’ unions which were participants of the much larger SKM, which led the anti-farm law demonstrations that blocked parts of Delhi’s border for more than a year.
The three controversial laws were repealed by the Union government on 29 November 2021, and a few days later, the agitation was withdrawn.
While debates over entering electoral politics often happened among the farmers groups even during the protests, things started taking shape more rapidly after the protest was withdrawn on 9 December, three farmer leaders who are part of the SKM told ThePrint.
SKM meeting to decide fate of SSM leaders
The SKM has called a meeting of all its members in Delhi on 14 March, said farmer leader and SKM representative Darshan Pal, adding that the agenda of the meeting involves taking a decision on the fate of the leaders — Rajewal being the most prominent of them — who jumped into electoral politics at the cost of a split in farmers’ unity.
“They were bound to fail and it happened. Now, they are likely to feel isolated because they are no longer active members of the pressure group of farmer unions which is still fighting for MSP and other issues. The 14 March meeting is important in terms of ascertaining the fate of those leaders,” said Pal.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)