New Delhi: Even as the stalemate between farmers’ unions and the Central government over the three controversial farm laws continues, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now decided to step up its political activity against the farmers’ protests. While the government has been on an offensive against the protesting farmers in Delhi ever since the Republic Day tractor parade chaos, the BJP is now planning to launch a political campaign in states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where it believes people’s consolidation against the farm laws could harm its electoral prospects.
On Tuesday (February 16), BJP president J.P. Nadda and Union home minister Amit Shah met top leaders of the party from these regions dominated by the Jat community, to come up with a plan to control possible damages in the future. The BJP believes that the farmers’ protests may affect the party’s chances in at least 40 seats in north India.
While the farmers’ unions have already stated that they won’t settle for anything less than a repeal of all three laws, the Union government has refused to blink, despite agreeing to make multiple amendments to the legislations. But the most imminent worry staring at the ruling BJP is the way several decidedly anti-government, anti-BJP kisan mahapanchayats in Haryana, western UP and Rajasthan have seen the participation of all communities in recent weeks.
The BJP has banked on politics of polarisation to gain electorally in these regions. While in western UP, it has pitched the dominant Jats against Muslims in the aftermath of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, in Haryana, it has consolidated fragmented but different Hindu communities against Jats to secure a numerical advantage in elections. Similarly, in eastern Rajasthan, where the BJP has held sway over various communities in parliamentary elections, the recent kisan mahapanchayats, mostly organised by the Sachin Pilot-led Congress camp, have the potential to sway the dominant Gujjars away from the saffron party’s fold.
Thus, the party looks to bank on its organisational strength to initiate a “sensitisation campaign” in favour of the farm laws. The BJP leaders agree that it may be very difficult to get a patient hearing from the people at this point, given the perceptible anger against the Union government on the farm laws, but think that the campaign may re-energise the party’s rank and file. Even if it kickstarts a dialogue among communities, the campaign will be deemed a success, some BJP leaders from western UP told The Wire.
What will the campaign look like?
A senior party leader from the state told The Wire that as pointed out by Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar too, the opposition while terming the three laws as “black laws” completely failed to disclose how they were so. “So we have decided to reach out to all our leaders in Haryana, as also in other states, with information on the issues at stake,” he said.
The saffron party is likely to come out with its own ‘toolkit’ or complete guide on how its party leaders in the state should answer questions pertaining to the three farm laws. “No timeline has been decided as yet but we will be providing literature to all our MPs, MLAs, district council members and other representatives in the state to apprise them of the exact situation as also to equip them to answer all the queries posed to them by people in their areas in a better way.”
With the opposition parties making good use of the khaps or rural councils to strengthen the farmers’ protests and drawing huge crowds, the BJP has also decided to approach these khaps directly with the answers to their concerns.
It may be noted that the khaps have played a huge role in organising farmers’ agitations and have helped spread the protests outside Delhi, in rural belts. Clearly, the idea behind the campaign is to ensure that the opposition parties, which are participating in these mahapanchayats actively, do not gain at the cost of the BJP in the long run.
In Haryana, several BJP leaders have also participated in the mahapanchayats. The mahapanchayat in Jind was in fact led by a BJP leader, Chaudhary Tek Ram, who is also the head of the Kandela khap. When asked why he organised the meet against the three laws brought in by his own party, he had declared that the issue at stake did not concern a particular party but that it was a fight for the rights of the farmers.
Aware of the fact that Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, who has become the prominent face of the farmers’ agitation and who himself heads the Baliyan khap, has been using these mahapanchayats to build a movement against the three laws, the BJP has also galvanised its leaders from rural backgrounds, especially from the Jat community, to reach out to the aggrieved and concerned groups with their own messages.
The saffron party also wants to rid its local leaders of the problems they are facing in the form of direct protests by farmers near their place of residence. The farmers have also protested near the residence of BJP’s ally Jannayak Janata Party leader and deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala. Though Chautala has supported the three laws and vowed to ensure that the farmers would be paid the promised minimum support price, this has done little to address the larger concerns.
The state has also witnessed strong protests by farmers against public meetings planned by the BJP and JJP to put across their point of view – including the one in Karnal on January 10, which could not be attended by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar due to the protests. The party now wants to address fears which it believes have been thrust into the minds of the farmers due to the ongoing protests. As former Haryana BJP president Subhash Barala, who is also a Jat leader, was quoted as saying, “The fear has been nursed in their minds.”
“The larger point of the campaign is to show that the opposition is misleading the farmers,” a mid-level BJP leader from western UP said, adding that if they begin such a campaign now, the party will be able to neutralise the resentment against it by the time elections are held.