Farmers' Movement

Masterstroke that misfired: BJP unlikely to gain in Uttar Pradesh from Narendra Modi's decision to repeal farm laws

Print edition : December 17, 2021

Twitter image posted by Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party president, of his meeting with Jayant Choudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal on November 23. The meeting was to announce their electoral alliance for next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Photo: PTI

At the foundation stone laying ceremony of the International Air Port at Jewar in Uttar Pradesh on November 25. The BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh is focussing on the Adityanath government’s infrastructure projects. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s plans to win back the support of farmers alienated by the three controversial farm laws are unlikely to yield results in Uttar Pradesh. The resentment on the ground is high and the Samajwadi Party is tapping into it.

“Grand Masterstroke”. That was one of the phrases that dominated the narrative of the propaganda machinery of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar led by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) through November 19 and 20, in the immediate aftermath of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on the repeal of the farm laws. Hindutva social media handles parroted the line, supplementing it with elaborate expositions of the rationale for the unprecedented climbdown by the “supreme leader”. Emphasising that the Prime Minister had not taken a step like this in his seven-year tenure, the propaganda machinery asserted that it was taken with the national interest in mind, as countries inimical to India, such as Pakistan and China, were trying to exploit the social and political conditions created by the year-long farmers’ agitation. Said Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh: “Modiji’s pointed message through this action is that he will not let enemies of India benefit under any circumstances.”

Along with this high-sounding projection, the propaganda machinery claimed that the “Grand Masterstroke” had “squashed the grand plans of opposition parties, including the Congress, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to make use of the farmers’ agitation to further their prospects in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Said a senior RSS leader in charge of electoral preparations in Uttar Pradesh: “The opposition can no longer hope to use the farmers’ agitation as an effective political tool. For all political purposes, the agitation as a political tool has been thwarted by Modiji’s super move.” Talking to Frontline a couple of days after Modi’s announcement, the RSS leader indicated that “phenomenal follow-up realpolitik moves are also afoot within the higher circles of the BJP and these will come as an absolute shocker for the opposition”.

‘Realpolitik moves’

Athough the leader did not elaborate on these “phenomenal realpolitik moves”, the whispers within Sangh Parivar circles from the evening of November 22 centred on the follow-up plans. These plans, as delineated in private by Sangh Parivar activists, had three distinctive components. First, in late November or early December, Union Home Minister Amit Shah would convene a meeting of important leaders of the Jat community, including Amarinder Singh, former Punjab Congress Chief Minister; Jayant Singh Choudhary, Rashtriya Lok Dal president; and Dushyant Singh Chautala, Haryana Deputy Chief Minister and leader of the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), apparently to find a concrete solution to the minimum support price (MSP) issue, the most important point raised by the agitating farmers and their leaders in the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) in the days following Modi’s announcement. The SKM leadership had made it clear that it would respond to Modi’s calls to return home only if its demands on the MSP were met. Sangh Parivar insiders argued that this meeting and the decision on the MSP would give sufficient grounds for the RLD to align with the BJP and join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and consequently the Modi-led Union government.

Also read: BJP turns Lakhimpur Kheri into new Hindutva battleground

The second part of the realpolitik manoeuvre was apparently to confer Bharat Ratna on former Prime Minister Choudhary Charan Singh, the legendary Jat leader, founder of the Bharatiya Lok Dal (which later became the RLD) and the grandfather of Jayant Choudhary.

The third component of the realpolitik move was to consolidate Jat votes behind the BJP for the Assembly elections. Obviously, this move would focus more on Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. A whisper campaign on this three-pronged plan gathered momentum through November 22. Various segments of the Sangh Parivar followed this up on the morning of November 23.

S.P.-RLD shocker

However, S.P. president Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Choudhary chose the afternoon of November 23 to smother this highfalutin Sangh Parivar campaign when they met in Lucknow and tweeted identical photographs of the meeting to announce that the S.P.-RLD electoral alliance for next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh was very much on course. Jayant Choudhary captioned the photograph “Badhte Kadam” (advancing steps), while Akhilesh Yadav termed it “heading towards change with Jayant Chaudhary”. This meeting, and the synchronised tweets of the two young leaders, dealt a serious blow to the well-laid-out whispering campaign launched by the BJP and its cohorts in the Sangh Parivar following Modi’s announcement on the farm laws.

Talking to Frontline after the Akhilesh Yadav-Jayant Choudhary meeting, S.P. leader Professor Sudhirkumar Panwar and RLD leader Ajay Tomar said that the real trigger for Modi’s climbdown on the farm laws had been exposed by the BJP-Sangh Parivar campaign between November 20 and 23 on the “Jat constituency”. Said Panwar: “The real worry for the BJP and the Prime Minister was about the BJP losing political ground steadily to the S.P. and the RLD over the past few months. With each passing day, the depletion of support gathered momentum, proportionately increasing the worry of the national leadership of the BJP and the RSS, though Chief Minister Adityanath tried to look composed. The BJP leadership realised early on that the party would face a washout in Punjab and was indeed prepared for it right from the time the Shiromani Akali Dal [SAD] parted ways with it last year, but it had not bargained for the groundswell of opposition in Uttar Pradesh. By any yardstick, this situation was one of the prime motivators of the Modi announcement.”

Also read: How the battle was won

Tomar went on to say that the S.P. and the RLD were natural allies as both stood for the interests of farmers and workers. “The BJP may try all the tricks in the trade and some outside it to separate the natural allies, but these efforts are not going to succeed,” he said. Tomar asserted that the alliance of the two farmer-oriented parties would have a direct impact in 120 to 130 seats, particularly in western Uttar Pradesh, and indirect impact in another 100 seats in other parts of the State. A sizable number of the agitating farmers who interacted with Frontline in the third and last weeks of November agreed with this perception.

Flawed all the way

Many of them pointed out that every single step by Modi and his team on the farm laws were ill-advised and badly timed. Said Manjit Singh, a farmer from Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, who is actively involved in the agitations: “To start with, they pushed the laws through without any consultation with stakeholders and by using all sorts of extralegal draconian measures, ranging from ordinances to bulldozing Parliament. Then they adopted the authoritarian line that ‘if you are not with us you are with the enemy’. Modi himself advocated this approach. While speaking in the Rajya Sabha, he branded the agitating farmers as those consumed by ‘Foreign Destructive Ideology’, while his Ministers and party leaders called us ‘Khalistanis’ and ‘Chinese agents’. Modi added yet another epithet when he lampooned the farmers as andolanjeevis [those who lived off agitations]. However, as this badmouthing continued, resentment against it grew among BJP and Sangh Parivar supporters too.”

Agreeing with the view of Manjit Singh, a senior RSS activist based in Meerut told Frontline that the feedback he had received from the States of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh made it clear that people, cutting across party lines, had begun revolting against the Modi government’s nefarious descriptions of farmers as early as March 2021. He said that many of his associates in the Sangh Parivar had admitted in private that they were forced to brand farmers ‘anti-national’. Some of them pointed out that the Modi-Shah-Adityanath triumvirate had steadfastly refused to accept any suggestion on amendments to the farm laws. Apparently, there were suggestions to make amendments and to send the Bills to a Select Committee. But nothing was acceptable to the Big Three. “All this boomeranged on Modi and his associates and that is why he had to concede to roll back the controversial laws,” the senior RSS activist said.

Also read: The duplicity of the farm laws

He and his colleagues are sceptical whether the move by itself would result in concrete electoral gains. “At best, this could help cut medium- and long-term political losses, but we do not see this converting into manifest electoral gains anytime soon. This is all the more so because Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Choudhary have thwarted the so-called ‘Jat constituency’ game.” This RSS leader and many of his colleagues were also of the view that this was one of the main reasons why a jubilant campaign on the withdrawal of the farm laws had taken a back seat.

Tapping into the anger

The BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh, as it stood in the third week of November, is focussing on themes such as the threat posed to the polity by family-run parties. Speaking at a function on the ‘Constitution Day’ on November 26, Modi said these parties were against the spirit of the Constitution and were the biggest threat to democracy.

Another focus of the campaign is the Adityanath government’s infrastructure projects such as the Kashi Vishwanath Dham project, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Gorakhpur, the Kanpur Metro, the Uttar Pradesh Defence Industrial Corridor, the Kushinagar airport, the Bundelkhand Expressway and the Ganga Expressway. The Kushinagar airport and the Purvanchal Expressway have been inaugurated, but other projects are still under way.

Also read: One year on, the farmers’ protest holds its ground

Many political observers in Uttar Pradesh believe that if the opposition had been in a position to collectively and creatively channelise the farmers’ protest energy, it could well have created an impact similar to the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement that rocked the Congress-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But, evidently, this creative tapping of the protest energy has not happened.

Still, the manner in which Akhilesh Yadav is harnessing this energy in Uttar Pradesh and forming alliances with small Other Backward Classes (OBC)-oriented parties is steadily turning problematic for the BJP. “It seems to have some potential,” said the Meerut-based senior RSS activist, and this observation has many takers across the political spectrum of the State.

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