New Delhi: Amid the Congress’ vociferous support to the farmers agitating against the three farm laws by the Narendra Modi government, the party suffered a major electoral blow in Rajasthan’s local body polls.
The Congress lost to the BJP in both the panchayat samiti elections and the zilla parishad polls in 21 districts.
According to the results announced Wednesday, out of the 4,371 panchayat samitis, the BJP won 1,989 seats and the Congress won 1,852 seats. Similarly, of the 636 seats in the zilla parishad elections, the BJP won 353 seats while the Congress managed to secure just 252.
This defeat is especially concerning for the party since the BJP managed a victory despite the mammoth protest by the farmers against the Modi government’s farm bills. And the Congress was defeated even after their strong support to the farmers.
On Wednesday, a delegation of five opposition leaders, including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, met President Ram Nath Kovind and submitted a memorandum demanding the repeal of the three contentious laws.
While addressing the media outside Rashtrapati Bhavan after the meeting, Gandhi said, “The way the bills were imposed, we see it as an insult to the farmers of this country. The kisaan has lost faith in the government. The kisaan does not believe that the government is acting in their interest and that is why lakhs of them are on the streets, nonviolently and compassionately on the streets.”
Congress has consistently failed to capitalise on farmer anger
However, farmer-led movements have rarely ever resulted in electoral gains for the Congress.
In 2015, after immense backlash, some contentious amendments to the 2013 Land Acquisition Act were withdrawn by the Modi government.
This was seen as a significant victory for the Opposition at the time, which had led a scathing attack against the government.
While the RJD-led mahagathbandhan, comprising the JD(U) and the Congress, won the Bihar elections that took place a few months later, the Congress was not able to capitalise on the farmers’ angst in the next several elections.
The party lost four out of five states that went to polls a year later in 2016. It lost power in Assam and Kerala and also did not gain ground in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Puducherry was the only election it won that year.
Then, in 2017, the Congress led a protest against the killing of 6 farmers in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur in a police firing during an agitation demanding loan waivers.
Rahul Gandhi, who was then Congress president, had even gone to meet the families of the deceased farmers, ahead of the 2018 Madhya Pradesh assembly election campaign.
While the Congress did win the state election, the party failed to capture the Mandsaur seat, losing out to the sitting BJP MLA Yashpal Singh Sisodia.
This was also not the first time Gandhi’s elaborate attempt at farmer outreach failed to translate into a poll win.
Back in 2011, Gandhi rode pillion into the twin villages of Bhatta and Parsaul in Western Uttar Pradesh, which had been at the centre of the farmer protests against the then Mayawati-led government.
His visit to the village and the reception it got, made Congress confident of winning at least the one seat in the following 2012 assembly elections.
However, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party’s candidate won from the Jewar seat, under which fell the twin villages, while the Congress candidate fell short by nearly 10,000 votes.
‘Farmers a divided political constituency’
According to political analysts, farmer politics have hardly ever been able to make an impact on elections, more so in recent years.
“This is because farmers are not a united political constituency but equally divided along the lines of caste, class, region and ideology as the rest of the population. Famers generally fail to forge durable and broad coalitions that can systematically alter electoral competition. The only big exception has been (former prime minister) Chaudhary Charan Singh,” Asim Ali, research associate at the Centre for Policy and Research, told ThePrint.
However, Ali added that, historically, the Congress has been even less adept at reaping the benefits from a farmer constituency.
“In fact, the Congress has been the biggest political loser from the political mobilisation of peasants post-Green Revolution. These peasants, mostly from the backward castes, deserted the party from the late 1960s to form the core of their own regional parties,” he said.
Ali further noted that the Congress may have benefited from rural distress by building schemes like the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and extending farm loan waivers during UPA-I.
“But even here the Congress gained more from a pro-poor message rather than a pro-farmer message.”
Congress Kisan committee headless for a year
According to Congress leaders, farmers are a difficult group to mobilise, mostly because of the existing divisions along caste and class lines.
Furthermore, the All India Kisan Congress, the party’s cell dedicated to farmers, has been functioning without a chairperson for over a year now after Nana Patole quit the post in July 2019 following the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha polls.
Congress spokesperson Supriya Srinate, however, maintained that the fight for farmers is not about political gains and losses.
“Crores of farmers in India are absolutely upset and have point black rejected the farm laws. In this fight for their survival and future, we stand by them,” Srinate said.
“Any fight for the farmer, irrespective of electoral gains or losses, will be fought by the Congress till its rightful conclusion,” she told ThePrint.
Unlike the Congress, the ruling National Democratic Alliance has managed to increase electoral support among farmers over the years.
According to the 2019 Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, the NDA was able to increase its vote-share among farmers more than any other voter base across major states, despite the multiple farmers’ movements against the government in the preceding years.