New Delhi: The murder of a Dalit Sikh at the Singhu border last week may have, for the time being, overshadowed the issues at the heart of the ongoing agitation, but the months of discontent with the new farm laws brought in by the Modi government is making the BJP fear a negative impact on the party’s performance in the UP polls scheduled to be held next year.
At a ‘Mahapanchayat’ held by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) in UP’s Muzaffarnagar last month, the agitating farmers had not only vowed to intensify their protest against the controversial farm laws, but many had also called for the BJP’s defeat in next year’s assembly polls. Sugarcane farmers present at the Mahapanchayat had also expressed resentment against the UP government for stagnation in sugarcane prices.
Eager to placate and woo the disgruntled farmers, the BJP has instructed its leaders in UP, including all MPs, MLAs, and district representatives — especially in western UP and districts around Lakhimpur Kheri (which has a high concentration of Sikh farmers and has also witnessed many farmers’ deaths) — to reach out to each and every gram panchayat even before the elections are announced.
According to a party leader, BJP leaders and workers in the state have been asked to ensure that farmers be informed about all schemes introduced by the Modi government for their welfare.
Sources in the BJP said the party is also organising kisan chaupals (where BJP leaders meet farmers in small groups) in every village in October. Following this, a tractor rally — similar to that organised by the protesting farmers — is planned for November. In December, the party aims to organise kisan sammelans in each assembly constituency.
Party leaders have also been instructed to interact with the angry farmers with a complete sense of sympathy and not to confront them. Instructions are also in place to avoid campaigning in villages where resistance levels are intense and to instead, focus on adjoining villages.
‘Don’t confront farmers’ leaders’
The farmers’ agitation has had a greater impact in western UP, where farmers are also disgruntled over issues such as the low price of sugarcane (the Modi government hiked the Fair and Remunerative Price on sugarcane in August).
Last month, the Yogi Adityanath government in the state too announced a Rs 25 per quintal hike in the purchase prices of sugarcane in the state — but it has been criticised as being inadequate — and an increase in unemployment following the Covid pandemic. Here the anger among Jat farmers against the BJP is also more visible, a factor that can go against the party in the assembly elections.
And so, according to party sources, the BJP has asked its leaders to tour the villages and hold kisan chaupals here more extensively.
“The main aim is to convince the farmers in a peaceful manner and to alleviate their misconceptions. This is because the atmosphere is quite charged in western UP and opposition parties can stoke the fire further before and during elections. That’s why we are on alert mode and we have been told not to confront angry farmers. If they resort to blocking our path, we should adopt another route and focus on campaigning in the villages with less opposition,” said a BJP MLA from western UP.
“However, the opposition from farmers in these villages is not as much as is seen in Haryana and Punjab.”
Chaupals are being organised in every gram panchayat and according to sources, the target is to hold them in all 58,195 gram panchayats in the state by 31 October — the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel.
In addition to informing and educating the farmers about alleged misconceptions being spread about the three new farm laws, these chaupals will also witness activities like direct communication with the beneficiaries of Krishi Samman Nidhi Yojana — a Central scheme under which an income support of Rs 6,000 per year is provided to all land-holding farmer families in three equal installments — and educate the farmers about benefits such as subsidies given by the Centre on fertilisers, agricultural equipment, and seeds.
In the first phase (17-31 October), MLAs, district presidents, MPs and ministers have been asked to reach out to the villages. The second phase, which will start in November, will include tractor rallies in all district headquarters to express gratitude towards PM Modi and CM Yogi’s initiatives and work done by them. Then, in December, kisan sammelans will be organised in all assembly constituencies.
“The so-called farmer leaders have spread all kinds of misconceptions among the farmers and grossly misled them. They have been told that the mandis will be shut down and destroyed. No MSP-based procurement will be made and their lands will be snatched from them. No one can be a bigger sympathiser of farmers than PM Modi, whose government has transferred money directly to farmers’ accounts through Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme,” UP BJP Kisan Morcha chief Kameshwar Singh told ThePrint.
“Most of the overdue sugarcane payments have been cleared and the price of sugarcane has also been increased by the Yogi government. These things need to be told to the farmers.”
‘Young Jats disenchanted with BJP’
However, the BJP’s efforts to bring down the resentment prevailing among the farmers do not seem to have had any encouraging results as yet, a fact admitted by some party leaders in the state.
“From our side, we are trying our best to minimise the damage. But the chances are quite high that the youth among Jats, who were over-enthusiastic in 2019 due to a heightened sense of patriotism in the name of PM Modi, are now not excited in the same way due to factors like farmers’ agitation, high inflation, rising petrol-diesel prices and dwindling employment opportunities after the Covid pandemic,” a BJP leader, who heads several district units in western UP, told ThePrint.
“This vote-bank might shift to the Samajwadi Party and/or Ajit Singh’s party RLD. In 2019, we had secured 90 per cent Jat votes. This time our share will probably be 40-50 per cent only. We are also facing severe protest in several villages, but the situation might improve by the time of elections.”
Another BJP MLA said, ”Not only Jats, Muslims, and Gujjars, but Sikhs here are also angry with the party as a result of the ongoing farmers’ agitation. In Lakhimpur Kheri and Terai region, there are some Sikhs in every village who will harm the BJP’s chances in the election. The biggest cause of worry is that there is a sentiment prevailing among the Sikhs that we are anti-Sikh and anti-Jat. This needs to be addressed.
“Lakhimpur Kheri has the highest population of Sikhs in UP, where several farmers were crushed to death by a BJP leader’s car. There will surely be some benefit from the increase in sugarcane prices, but how long-lasting its effect will be that will depend on how intensively we are able to campaign in these areas,” the MLA said.
In the 2012 assembly election, the BJP could win only 38 out of 110 assembly seats in western UP. However, this number swelled to 88 in 2017. The biggest factor behind this was the enmity between Jats and Muslims following the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, which benefited the BJP. The ongoing farmers’ agitation has, however, brought the two communities closer, despite threats to this fragile unity from issues like ‘Love Jihad’, often propagated by BJP leaders.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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