Farm protests: Don’t write off the BJP in Uttar Pradesh-2022
With assembly elections a year away in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the farm agitation could well give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reason for concern when it comes to western UP, an area where it increased its seat tally from 38 of 110 seats in 2012 to 88 in 2017. It is from this region, decades ago, that the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader, Mahendra Singh Tikait, organised farmers to fight collectively for their rights, a legacy being carried on by his son Rakesh Tikait today.
The BJP, with its Ram Mandir movement, was able to effectively fracture the famous “Majgar” alliance of Muslims, Ahirs, Jats, Gujjars and Rajputs, assiduously put together by the state’s tallest Jat from the region, the late prime minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh.
Can the BJP, which got a large segment of the Jat vote in western UP in a series of elections, be sanguine about their support going forward? Will the angry farmers erode the BJP’s hold in western UP? Today, farm protests have brought together the region’s Jats, Gujjars, Ahirs, Muslims, Tyagis and Brahmins on the same platform. Will they remain disaffected, and for how long?
While the BJP cannot take things for granted, it is far too early to predict the outcome of the polls. There are many factors which will come into play. Poll issues, candidates, the strengths and weakness of the Opposition will all count. The BJP has a year to woo back those who have been alienated.
There are several reasons why things could change.
One, west UP farmers, while demanding a repeal of the three farm laws, have not directly attacked either Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi or chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath. The latter has not taken any coercive action against the farmers so far. In fact, he is using various persuasive means to convince Rakesh Tikait to budge from his all-or-nothing position.
Two, the communal divide, which seems papered over for now, could still play a role in the elections. The agitation may have revived the fortunes of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Chaudhary Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary, but their hopes of a Muslim-Jat reconciliation are unlikely to materialise.
Three, the PM may work out a solution to the farm protest soon as he is under pressure from influential Jat leaders in the region. In addition, leaders such as defence minister and former UP chief minister Rajnath Singh can be deployed for damage control because of his relationship with many Jat leaders, including Tikait.
Four, Ajit Singh could well play a mediatory role. The RLD has been a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Before the elections, Singh might weigh all his options. Despite the RLD’s alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both father and son lost their seats in their own pocketboroughs of Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat in 2019. As of now, farmers, irrespective of caste or community, are angry with the government. But will this last after a year? Could RLD’s calculations change?
And finally, the BJP has other issues which could win it support. One is the promise of development and the other is to cash in on an issue which has evoked much ferment in western UP, and indeed across the state — that of “love jihad”. Irrespective of one’s personal view about it, stories of Muslim men enticing Hindu women into marriage and converting them to Islam have found much traction among Hindus of all castes. There is also much support for the CM’s signature anti-cow slaughter measures.
The fortunes of the BJP in 2022, therefore, rest on several factors. Will Rakesh Tikait’s impassioned performance in the farm protest wash away communal animosity and reunite the Jats and Muslims against the party? Can the farm movement revive the RLD? Will agrarian distress change the politics of the region decisively? Will 2022 be a vote on emotional lines or will economics play a major role?
As of now, the BJP still has time to work out many of these issues.
The views expressed are personal