As Leaders Quit or Refuse to Campaign Due to Farm Laws, Punjab BJP Is in a Fix

A number of party leaders have defected to the Shiromani Akali Dal, and others are expected to follow suit.

Mohali (Punjab): The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its members have been pushed to a corner in the state. The farmers’ agitation, which has completed more than 100 days in Punjab, has become the ground for anti-Narendra Modi and anti-BJP sentiment. It has led to the collapse of one the oldest political alliances in India, a social boycott of anyone related to the BJP and even attacks on some of the top leaders from the party.

All attempts by the BJP to communicate with the protestors on the farm laws are being thwarted. The homes of many BJP leaders continue to be targeted by of protesting farmers. According to local media reports, the BJP was forced to conduct one of their meetings on the upcoming municipal polls in secrecy, away from public anger, in Barnala district last week.

With a bleak political future in sight, at least 10 leaders who held senior posts in rural Punjab quit the BJP and joined the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on January 16. In addition, at least seven members of the BJP from Faridkot district penned a letter to senior party leadership in Punjab saying that they are putting their weight behind the farmers’ movement and will not be a part of any BJP-related activities in the state until the demands of the farmers are met.

Speaking to The Wire, Jaswinder Singh Bhularia, the district press secretary of the BJP’s OBC  (Other Backward Caste) front, and one of the signatories of the letter, said that despite being a BJP member, he supports the farmers’ cause because it is the right thing to do.

“We are with the party. We have just lent our support to the farmers. We have said we won’t attend any function, and won’t be part of any activity involving the upcoming municipal polls in the state. All communities live and thrive because of farmers in this state,” he said over the phone from Faridkot.

Also read: Why the Anti-CAA and Farmers’ Agitations Have Been Perceived Differently

The BJP and the SAD alliance was usually called the Sikh-Hindu alliance, made up of upper-caste Jatt Sikhs and the Hindu trader community’s support base. The support of  both the Jatt Sikhs and the traders has dwindled away because of the BJP’s apparently poor handling of the protest. On the other hand, the party is failing to gain the support of the SC and OBC communities as well.

Rajinder Kumar Raji from Mansa district, a former leader of the BJP’s OBC front, quit the party on January 16 after a 25-year-long career with the party. He joined the SAD on the same day. Speaking to The Wire, Raji said that the BJP is trying to gain the support of this community but failing.

“There’s hardly any support from us. The party is down to zero in rural Punjab,” he said.

Balwinder Singh Mal, another veteran politician who was with the BJP, quit the party along with Raji last week. He said, “It is difficult for the BJP to play caste-based politics in Punjab. This is not Haryana or Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. They cannot stoke caste sentiments here.”

On January 7, the huge support of Dalit landless agricultural labourers, both at the Tikri and Singhu protest sites, was also a message from hundreds of SC and OBC groups that they’re not with the BJP. The Wire had reported that the Dalits are determined not to be used by the BJP to turn the protests against the new agricultural laws into an issue of landowners’ rights.

Talking about the BJP’s future in the state, Jaswinder Bhularia from BJP Faridkot’s OBC front, who penned the letter lending support to farmers, said the sooner the stalemate between the Centre and the farmers will end, the sooner  Punjab’s BJP workers will be able to focus on their work safely.

“We want the prime minister to look into the matter in his personal capacity, so that farmers also go back home and we are also able to work safely in the state,” he said. “We will be able to think about the party’s future after the farmers’ movement is resolved.”

Also read: Farm Law Protests: Modi Must Ensure January 26 Does Not End in Blood on the Streets

Along with Bhularia, at least five other senior BJP leaders from Faridkot have signed the letter saying that they won’t be part of any activity involving the upcoming municipal polls in the state until the farmers’ demands are met.

Despite the party being cornered in the state, a few months ago the BJP announced that it will contest all seats alone in the upcoming polls of 2022. Currently, the party holds two seats in the state’s legislature – in Sujanpur and Abohar. In 2019 by-elections, the BJP lost its Phagwara seat. In the Lok Sabha, member of parliament (MP) Sunny Deol and MP Som Prakash represent Punjab from Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur respectively.

But even before the state assembly elections, the BJP will be put to the test at the upcoming municipal council elections in February. After BJP’s loss in the Haryana municipal polls, the party is looking to avoid a defeat in Punjab as well.

“The BJP is unable to find candidates for municipal elections. Even the city dwellers, the  traders, are boycotting them. They will find it very difficult to contest all seats independently,” said Balwinder Singh Mal, who quit the party on January 16 after working for 23 long years with the BJP.

Along with Balwinder Mal and Rajinder Raji, Sukhdev Singh Farmahi (former Mansa district president of the BJP), Balkar Singh Sahota, Jagtar Singh Tari (former district president SC Morcha, BJP), Surjit Kaur, former woman morcha leaders and president of the Mansa district, and Baljit Singh Chahal, Bahadur Khan, Ravinder Kumar Sharma and Baghel Singh of the BJP OBC morcha quit the party last week and joined the SAD.

Both Mal and Raji, speaking to The Wire, said that no one within the state has ‘listened to them’. “We kept meeting the state president, and many other senior leaders in the state but to no avail. If the state leadership doesn’t listen to us then how will the central leadership listen to us,” Raji said.

Mal said that as the vice-president of the BJP farmers’ front, he kept telling the BJP Punjab leadership that the ordinances will not be accepted but no one listened to him. “In the early days of the movement, when it was limited to Punjab, I was of the opinion that the BJP would amend the laws and be done with it. But the matter has gone too far now,” he said.

Welcoming 10 BJP leaders into his party, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said this would further strengthen the SAD in Punjab. Speaking to media persons, the SAD president added that in the next few days, the BJP would suffer another major jolt as various other leaders from Malwa are also planning to join SAD.

Visible cracks within the BJP and raging public sentiment against its leadership have put a big question mark over the saffron party’s future in the region.