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Chandigarh: Back home after their historic protest against the Narendra Modi government against the farm laws – which led to their repeal – members of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha or SKM are divided when it comes to the question of whether the farmers’ unions should take the electoral plunge.
The assembly polls of five states including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are scheduled to take place early next year.
Many see the latest conflict as an ideological clash fuelled by conflicting personal and political aspirations.
A section of SKM members including Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ekta-Ugrahan, BKU Dakonda, BKU Sidhupur, BKU Krantikari, Krantikari Kisan Union, Kirti Kisan Manch and few others have already made it clear that they were never interested in fighting elections and are not about to start now.
Having staged a successful protest against a powerful government by fighting on streets and leading a people-centric movement, they wish to continue their struggle as a key pressure group.
On the other hand, there are factions including one headed by BKU (Rajewal) that are exploring possibilities of entering electoral politics. Gurnam Singh Chaduni of the BKU Chaduni group from Haryana has already announced that the group will fight the election in Punjab, and will contest all 117 seats.
For the last few days, there have been strong rumours that negotiations are underway between Aam Aadmi Party and Balbir Singh Rajewal over a possible polltime understanding. Rajewal, a senior journalist tells The Wire, had also tried to secure an AAP ticket in 2017 but was not successful.
However, the talks stalled as most of the farmers’ unions were not in favour of engaging with mainstream political parties that they had worked hard to keep at an arm’s length during the entire farmers’ movement.
While Rajewal did not respond to calls from The Wire, a meeting of 25 out of 32 Punjab farmers’ unions (all of whom are a part of SKM) called by Rajewal on December 16 was crucial.
As per The Tribune’s report, the majority of unions which attended Rajewal’s meeting held the view that unions should avoid aligning with any of the mainstream political parties. If at all the question of contesting elections arises, unions should throw their own hat in the ring by forming their own party and contest the upcoming elections in Punjab.
Rajewal is quoted saying in a BBC report that while “anything can happen in the future”, any decision will be unanimously taken.
The BBC report also quoted another farmers’ leader Jaswinder Singh Sangha who confirmed that an effort to form a “kisan (‘farmer’) party” is underway.
Difference between key SKM leaders cause for worry
While it will take a few more days for clarity on whether farmers’ unions will form their own political party and fight elections, what is surprising is that key SKM leaders – Rajewal and Jagjit Singh Dallewal – are levelling serious allegations against each other.
Rajewal ruffled several feathers when he called Dallewal, who is president of BKU (Sidhupur) and was among key faces of the farmers’ movement, “an RSS man.”
“Dallewal di ki gall karni oh tan RSS nall sambandh rakhde ne…SKM de naal hi oh kisan mahasangh da vice-pardhan hai (‘What to say about Dallewal, he is associated with the RSS. Apart from SKM, he is vice-president of the Kisan Mahasangh’),” Rajewal said in a media interview on Wednesday, December 16.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
While Rajewal is yet to elaborate on his charge, Dallewal told The Wire that he was very upset with Rajewal’s comments.
“He (Rajewal) must clarify what is my association with RSS. If I am an RSS man by virtue of my association with the Kisan Mahasangh as Rajewal tried to imply then how does Rajewal manage to portray himself as exclusive of his ties with RSS, when he himself has been part of Kisan Mahasangh in various capacities?” asked Dallewal.
He said the Kisan Mahasangh was never “an RSS organisation” as Rajewal has claimed, but was a platform created about 10 years ago to raise the issue of farmers’ suicides and the debt waiver of the farmers. Unions from across the country became its members.
“Rajewal himself chaired several meetings of Kisan Mahasangh and even addressed the media on behalf of the organisation,” said Dallewal.
So why did Rajewal level the “RSS man” charges? “There are rumours that Rajewal said so because I objected to his intention to fight the election. This is completely untrue. I have no objection if someone wants to do politics. My stand is clear that I will remain apolitical and keep fighting for farmers’ cause as part of a larger pressure group,” Dallewal said.
Dallewal further said that he had opposed Rajewal many times when negotiations were underway with the Modi government during the farmers’ movement.
“Rajewal along with others submitted a proposal to the Union home minister without SKM’s knowledge in October this year, diluting the stand on the complete repeal of three farm bills,” said Dallewal.
He revealed that in that proposal, it was mentioned that while one bill should be repealed, the second bill should be left at the disposal of the state governments for implementation and a committee should be formed for discussion on the third bill.
“While the said proposal had been sent unsigned to the Union government, Rajewal himself confessed in one of our meetings during that time that he along with others had sent this proposal. Among others I was one strongly opposing this proposal and made it clear that that farmers will not return home until the Union government has repealed all three farm laws,” said Dallewal.
Rajewal, alleged Dallewal, was continuously putting pressure on them to accept his proposal. He even discussed the matter during a meeting on November 8, he said. Later, on November 19, Modi announced the repeal of all three farm laws.
Not a good sign for SKM
Political commentator Professor Harjeshwar Pal Singh said that the differences between SKM leaders is not a good sign as there are several key agendas of SKM including legalising of the Minimum Support Price that remain unfinished.
“Such statements only hamper the movement and create confusion. Even SKM’s negotiation power will also be weakened before the Union government if some of its popular faces join electoral politics,” said Harjeshwar.
SKM leader Dr Darshan Pal has already clarified that farmers who want to join politics must leave SKM. This makes amply clear that the churning in SKM is bound to happen in case farmers’ unions in Punjab and elsewhere form a separate political party.
Rajinder Singh Deep Singhwala of Kirti Kisan Union told The Wire that faces are not important in farmers’ movement and that if one face goes, others will replace him.
“One must understand that this farmers’ movement upheld the relevance and importance of struggle in democracy,” said Rajinder.
He said that democracy is not all only about fighting elections. The farmers’ movement had made it amply clear that if there is aware public on the ground and they are ready to wage a struggle, wrong policies of democratically elected governments can be changed.
He said if farmers had to repeal the farm bills through an electoral process, they would have needed at least 280 MPs on their side in the Lok Sabha and 125 MPs in the Rajya Sabha.
“On the other hand, the farmers’ movement was largely concentrated on just around 75 parliamentary seats in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Despite this, Modi government was forced to repeal three black laws just because people’s movement was strong and people made all sorts of sacrifices to achieve what was seen unachievable at one point of time,” he said
Rajinder added that there will always be those who believe in change through the electoral process but said he believes, “We need to have strong pressure groups in the society that keep a check on the governments. This farm movement has reinforced this space, which to my mind should not be diluted.”
“I believe similar movements are required in the education and health sectors to force the governments to bring qualitative change,” he added.