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  • Decode Politics: As farmer protests continue, how have they changed equations for Punjab parties | Political Pulse News

Decode Politics: As farmer protests continue, how have they changed equations for Punjab parties | Political Pulse News


The renewed farmers’ protest demanding a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) has made political parties alter their strategies, especially with the Lok Sabha elections just round the corner.

The idea of the protest, which was called by the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM), an umbrella organisation of over 100 farmer unions, and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political), originated in Punjab, where as of now the four main political parties — the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Congress, BJP and Akali Dal (SAD) — are all separately in the poll race.

The AAP in Punjab is trying to project itself as the party that is the “friend of the farmers”, with its Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann playing mediator in the Centre-farmer talks. The Congress, with nothing to lose and having had an amicable parting with the AAP at least in Punjab, has also lent support to the farmers’ demands, with its leaders visiting farmers injured in the protests. The BJP, which is in power at both the Centre and in Haryana (that has been using strongarm tactics to keep farmers from their plan of marching to Delhi) is doing its bit to ensure the farmers are not totally alienated from the party. It’s the Akalis, who are struggling to revive the party, who seem to be the most affected, with their “Punjab Bachao Yatra” on the backburner due to the protests and the prospects of an alliance with old partner BJP now bleak.

The lucky break for ruling AAP

The AAP government in Punjab has had its share of run-ins with farmers over a host of issues, and the Centre turning to Mann to act as mediator is clearly a god sent for the party. Some believe the AAP is trying to distract attention from its own problems vis-a-vis the farmers via the ongoing protest. But party spokesperson Manwinder Singh Kang denies this, saying: “At present, the farmers’ demands are related to the Centre and our CM is only trying to get their voices heard.”

Mann has played a key role since the KMM, on February 6, sent an email to the Centre on its Dilli Chalo call. KMM coordinator Sarvan Singh Pandher says they had a meeting with officials in the Haryana government as well, but were told no BJP ministers were free to meet them till February 14. On the other hand, Pandher says, Mann approached them, had an online meeting with them on February 7 and then facilitated their talks with three Union ministers – Arjun Munda, Piyush Goyal and Nityananda Rai — on the farmers’ demands.

Festive offer

The KMM’s first meeting with the three ministers on February 8 at the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration in Chandigarh was also reportedly facilitated by Mann.

Digvijay Pal Sharma, the president of the Democratic Teachers’ Front (DTF), which has also been protesting against the AAP government over issues such as unemployment and lack of hiring, says Mann has managed to shift the entire focus on the Centre. He points to the fact that a February 24 “Chalo Chandigarh” march called by the Bharti Kisan Union-Ekta Ugrahan, against the AAP government, has now been put off indefinitely.

The farmers’ protest has also given the AAP an opportunity to publicise its government’s “AAP di sarkar, AAP de dwar (AAP’s government at your doorstep)” initiative, via outreach camps. The party has also expressed sympathy with the family of the 23-year-old farmer Shubhkarman, who was killed. Mann has also announced strict punishment to the guilty.

A window of opportunity for Congress

The Congress, which finished second in the 2022 Assembly polls, has thrown its weight behind the farmers, with party chief Mallikarjun Kharge repeatedly saying that a legal guarantee for MSP would be part of the party’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections.

With the AAP and Congress “mutually deciding” to fight the Lok Sabha polls separately in Punjab, despite being constituents of the Opposition INDIA bloc, the support of the farmers is all the more important for the grand old party.

Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring has termed the farmers’ demands as “genuine” and has been reaching out to the injured ones. The party, sources said, wants to ensure that the people do not forget the Congress’s crucial support to the farmers’ agitation in 2020-2021, though it failed to benefit them electorally in the subsequent Punjab Assembly polls.

The BJP’s gambit

Before the protests began, the BJP was seen as looking to revive its fortunes in the state, where it will face the Lok Sabha elections without an alliance with the Akali Dal after a long time, with few giving it much of a chance. Its prospects seemed somewhat brighter after the Ram Temple consecration, which appeared to have resonated with the Hindu community of the state.

Given the clampdown by the BJP government in Haryana on the protesters, the Akalis will find it hard — at least for now — to join hands with it. The state leaders who are apprehensive of a farmer backlash have been talking in multiple voices. While former CM and ex-Congress leader Amarinder Singh met Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week to present the farmers’ cause, its Punjab unit chief Sunil Jakhar has been openly critical of Mann’s role in the negotiations.

Since the police action on protesters at the Shambhu border on February 21, farmers have camped outside the houses of at least 20 BJP leaders, including Jakhar. Many of these leaders now claim to have “befriended” the protesters, claiming that “it is the right of farmers to get themselves heard”.

The Centre has had five rounds of talks with the farmer leaders, including one on Wednesday night. But the farmers rejected the Centre’s last offer — to bring five crops under a diversification plan and procure them under MSP.

Sources in the party said that the BJP, however, is not too wary of a fallout. First, it sees this as significant that the Samyukta Kisan Morcha – the flagship organisation of over 500 farmer unions, which played a key role in the agitation against the now-repealed farm laws — is not a part of the protest. While distant earlier, the SKM, though, has jumped in now after the Haryana crackdown, and has been holding separate protests in as many as 59 locations across Punjab since February 17, condemning the police action and supporting farmers’ demands.

Second, while BJP insiders admit the protests made for “bad optics”, they are confident of a “counter-polarisation” in Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh in favour of the party. Many BJP leaders have raised questions over the timing of the protests and asked why the farmers were “sparing” the AAP government.

The Akali Dal’s struggles

After 30 farmers were left injured at the Shambhu border after the first round of farmer protests, the Akalis announced that they were putting off their Punjab Bachao Yatra, an ambitious programme planned to revive the party after the 2020 Assembly poll drubbing. Party insiders say it will also be difficult now to stitch an alliance with the BJP, at a time when its rural vote bank is turning against the Centre.

However, Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has kept a door open. While he has asked the Centre to consider the farmers’ demands and condemned the Haryana government for its action against the protesters, his attacks on the AAP government have been more fierce. He has repeatedly slammed the Mann government for not fulfilling its poll promise of giving MSP on all crops.

Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal said: “If the Centre is not giving (MSP), why can’t the state government do it? They had promised to give it within five minutes of forming the government.”

The party has also reached out to the injured farmers.





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