Punjab BJP Chief on Party's Future in the State, Infighting and Upcoming Polls

Even with a precarious standing, the BJP's state president tells The Wire that is optimistic about the party independently contesting 117 seats in the upcoming polls in Punjab.

Mohali: The agitation against the three agri-marketing laws, which started in Punjab last year, has visibly impacted the politics of the region.

It started with Punjab’s grand old party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) first severing ties with its oldest ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, the SAD hopes that its seat-sharing arrangement with its newest ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), will help the party in the state assembly elections, to be held in the early months of 2022.

The BJP, on the other hand, has arguably emerged as the biggest loser in the game thus far. It has witnessed one of the strongest social boycotts from masses in the state in recent history. Recently, two of the party’s ex-legislators have, for the first time, openly spoken about their dissatisfaction with the BJP’s top leadership in handling the farmers’ protest.

Earlier this year, after three members from the BJP’s OBC front resigned to join the SAD, various other members wrote to the top leadership to look into the matter of the agriculture laws personally as it was harming the BJP and its cadre’s political future in the state.

Speaking to The Wire, however, BJP’s state president Ashwani Kumar Sharma was on the defense when asked about concerns raised by his party’s own cadre and dismissed any fears over the party’s future in the state. Kumar said that the BJP’s state cadre stood united in the state despite the “personal opinions” of two ex-MLAs.

According to Sharma, the BJP at the centre and within the state has “done everything”  to dispel the fears of the peasant community unlike what a section of Punjab BJP members have said publicly.

In line with what many senior ministers of the Modi-led cabinet have said in the past about the farmers’ movement, Sharma told The Wire that the protests against the three agriculture laws is a political tool being used by the opposition to paint a false picture of the BJP in the country, and is not a genuine issue related to the agricultural economy.

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“The BJP state unit formed committees to speak with the farmers in Punjab. The efforts that we’ve made as a state unit have not entirely gone to waste. The Centre too has done everything. They even offered to temporarily suspend the farm laws. Then why didn’t the protest end?” Sharma  said. “This is a politically motivated movement. The Centre will do everything to help the Indian peasants,” he added.

Sharma said that it wasn’t the stalemate between the peasants and the Centre which was harming the BJP in Punjab, but the lack of  law and order exercised by the Congress government in the state which had lead to incidents of attacks on the party’s cadre.

“No, it [the prolonged stalemate between the farmers and the Centre] is a problem for us,” he said. You must see how in broad day-light, the police let goons attack BJP members. The genuine motives behind this farmers protest must be questioned,” he said.

When asked whether the concerns raised by party members in the public were being discussed and addressed in party meetings, Sharma responded by saying that the BJP was better than “dynastic parties” and paid attention to everybody.

“We speak to everybody in the party about our affairs on a daily basis. We listen to everyone. We aren’t like the dynastic parties in the state,” Sharma said.

Sharma remained tight-lipped when The Wire asked him about the issues the party might raise in the upcoming elections, in light of new developments occurring elsewhere in the state’s politics. “Party politics is not for newspaper headlines,” he said.

The BJP in the past has enjoyed the support of upper-caste traders and baniya commission agents of agricultural markets in the state but not anymore. The recent urban local body polls showed that the BJP is losing its trust even among the urban class after facing a severe boycott from the rural peasant community. But Sharma said that the results of the urban body polls will have no bearing on the upcoming assembly elections. Instead, he believes that the trader community, running small and medium businesses, will restore their support in the BJP.

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“Every election is different. The reality of the assembly elections will be entirely different from municipal elections. The trader class, the city dwellers are watching Congress’s inaction in dealing with the pandemic. This will play out in our favour,” Sharma said.

Even with a precarious standing, the BJP’s state president is optimistic about regaining the trust of the party’s key vote bank, the Hindu upper-caste community, and independently contesting 117 seats in the upcoming polls in Punjab.