UP 2022 Elections: Farmers organise ‘Defeat BJP: Mission Uttar Pradesh’ Campaign
For the farmers of Western Uttar Pradesh, this protest has again given them an opportunity to regroup, leaving aside their religious and caste identities
Campaigns planned for Uttrakhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh as well where assembly polls are scheduled this year
Kisan Mahapanchayat during West Bengal elections
Since 1857, in the wake of the First Struggle for Independence, we have been observing ‘divide-and-rule’ polarisation for electoral and power politics in India. Started by the Britishers who openly indulged in Hindu appeasement in jobs and land endowments, since most of the freedom fighters were Muslims. They felt bonhomie of these two religious communities would spell doom for the British rule. This continued through to Division and Independence of India, and continues today.
However, some communities, like Industrialists, Artists, Workers and Farmers remained a cohesive non-religious sections of population which were governed only by their own needs, demands and future desires.
Till 1990-91, in around 30 Lok Sabha seats and more than 150 (out of 403) Assembly constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, electoral politics was rooted around Farmers and their choice of representatives. This was when all peasants, irrespective of their religion, blindly followed Chaudhary Charan Singh. After his demise the mantle for electoral politics for farming community went to Ajit Singh and the social political leadership got transferred to Tikait.
In the wake of nationwide Ram Janmbhoomi agitation by right-wing political parties, the country saw major social re-engineering. The churn that took place broke the earlier social structure down the middle and people polarised only on the basis of one identity – the religion that they professed.
Nonetheless with time these created chasms were bridged – and castes, sub castes and such equations mattered more – the mandal movement also helped in regrouping. It was not the same inter-religious cohesive unit of pre-90’s but there was mutual respect and interdependence between the two religions.
But if this social structure continued, the new emergent Hindu-appeasing, pro-capitalist, Muslim-othering political entity could not have ever come to rule India. In such a situation, those who wanted to govern again resorted to time-tested polarisation on the basis of religion – since that would have given them the biggest chunk of electorally obedient group who would vote en-masse. In retrospect, this was why the incidents occurred in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar – which again dislodged the bonhomie between the two religions and broke the unified Farmers community.
Around a decade later, the Farmers are again coming together and this time as always they have become a cohesive non-religious entity. It did start from Punjab and Haryana, so much so that initially the movement was given a Khalistani slur, but later peasants from Uttar Pradesh, more specifically Western Uttar Pradesh have been seen at the forefront of the agitation since the last 6 months. The glue this time is their protests against the 3 farm laws which according to them will help capitalists and would be majorly detrimental to the farmers’ cause.
From the viewpoint of Farmers of Western Uttar Pradesh – this protest has again given them an opportunity to regroup – leaving aside their religious and caste identities. They vehemently claim that they are an apolitical entity – hell-bent on removing the ruling BJP from both the state and the Central governments.
Keeping in minds this background, the farmers have announced a “Defeat BJP: Mission Uttar Pradesh” campaign to be started soon ahead of the 2022 assembly elections in the state. The campaign to be organised under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation with over 500 farmers’ organisations, which is coordinating the protests, confirmed that it will be done through mahapanchayats across UP with anti-BJP speeches.
In February this year, BJP leader and Union minister Sanjeev Balyan was forced out of a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district after farmers started sloganeering and protested his meeting Khap leaders. Balyan, one of the poster boys of 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots, was there with the intent to “educate” farmers about the newly enacted farm laws, which were being protested by their farmer brethren in thousands at various Delhi borders. Locals say that Balyan’s popularity, which had roared after the Muzaffarnagar riots, has nosedived among the seething farmers.
Rakesh Tikait, spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), on the other hand has gained popularity and seems will soon prove to be a worthy heir to the legendary Mahendra Singh Tikait. After the Republic Day tractor parade and some unnecessary incidents and the subsequent police crackdown, Tikait gave a passionate speech at Ghazipur border with tears in his eyes, which won him the hearts of thousands of farmers, especially from Western UP, who later joined the protest.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is not much concerned about the 3 farm laws, is also aflame. There the anger stems from the abysmal handling of the second Covid-19 wave. Citing this the farmers leaders feel the situation is “ripe” for “Defeat BJP: Mission UP” campaign.
Reiterating that farmers are not going to back down anytime soon until their demands are met, Rakesh Tikait said, “The government should forget that our protest will fizzle out.”
Another farmers leader - Hannan Mollah from the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) says government’s apathy has forced farmers to campaign against BJP. “We are a farmer organisation facing the most inhumane, barbaric and fascist government trying to impose impractical laws over farmers. The government doesn’t care about our concerns, they only care about elections and votes. So we thought, why not defeat them electorally?” he says.
Even though claiming the defeat of BJP in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal singularly due to maha panchayat in these states – maybe too farfetched, but many political experts feel this could also have been one of the reasons of the saffron party’s juggernaut not being effective.
Reminding “Defeat BJP” will not be for Uttar Pradesh alone but for other states which will go for elections in 2022 such as Uttrakhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, Mollah adds that since the farmers’ organisation is not a political party, their role will end by campaigning against BJP.
Maybe the peasant leaders are taking a cue from RSS, projecting themselves as a social organisation rather than a political one. By taking this course, they will accrue all the benefits and will not be saddled by any responsibility.
Another AIKS farmer leader, D.P. Singh, says that due to COVID-19, the campaign has not yet started. However, he believes that it is the right time to start as certain communities that historically side with BJP, such as the Rajputs, have voted against them in panchayat polls.
“Even farmers from Eastern Uttar Pradesh have joined our protests. The message of our protests, the anger, has reached the lowest rungs of the society. They have at least started thinking that if private companies take over, what will happen to their farms?” he asks.
He adds, “This thought has crept into the poorest of the people, so it means that our protest did the work in educating the masses. People have risen against the farm laws and are angry. Now it is time to channelise that anger and take action.”
Harinder Bindu, BKU Ekta Ugrahan woman wing head, says that women will also participate in the campaign against the BJP. “Whatever is needed, we will do it. The women will support whatever is necessary for these farm laws to go away.”