More than 8 lakh farmers from Punjab and Haryana are camping at the borders of Delhi, demanding the repeal of the Centre’s three contentious farm laws. Those who are not at the protest sites are making sure that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators and party men back home are feeling the heat.
At several places, BJP legislators have even been attacked. For the last two months, their meetings are being disrupted and they are not allowed to hold any public programme.
Protesters on Thursday (February 11) attacked the vehicle of Punjab state BJP chief Ashwani Sharma, who had come to meet party workers in connection with the upcoming civic body elections in the border town of Ferozepur. Facing protests from farmers, Sharma did not turn up at the decided venue and instead called a meeting with party leaders at an undisclosed location in Bathinda.
In Punjab, the situation is so precarious for the saffron party that it is struggling to get candidates to fight the upcoming civic elections. As per reports, the party has failed to get candidates even for half the seats.
Civic polls in Punjab will be held for a total of 2,302 wards in eight municipal corporations and 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats. The BJP has not been able to field candidates for 1,632 seats, i.e. 71 per cent of the total seats.
Several BJP members have resigned. At least 10 leaders who held senior posts quit the BJP and joined the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). In addition, nearly 200 members of the BJP have resigned and the number is increasing every day. A majority of BJP members have decided to contest the elections as ‘independents’, fearing backlash as the farmers’ agitation rages on.
A BJP leader from Punjab, on the condition of anonymity, told The Federal that they are not allowed to do anything in the state. “Wherever we go, farmers follow. We can’t do anything. We have communicated the same to the party national leadership, but nothing has been done about it as of now. Candidates fear to fight the elections as BJP nominees.”
Punjab BJP president Ashwani Sharma accused the Congress government of “murdering democracy” and said that state officials “behave like puppets of CM Captain Amarinder Singh”. Sharma said this is probably the first election in which candidates of a national party are not being allowed to campaign or hold meetings, and even their posters were being torn.
Sharma said he along with other leaders would meet the governor and the DGP over the safety of BJP candidates in the municipal council polls. For the last two months, Sharma has faced dozens of such protests all over the state. Every time farmers get information of his arrival, they reach the venue and disrupt his meeting.
“The farm laws will sound the death knell for this repressive, despotic and autocratic party. What you see on the roads, and which you allege to be the Congress handiwork, is the spontaneous anger triggered among farmers by your arrogant anti-farmer attitude,” Amarinder Singh said, rejecting the Punjab BJP’s claims that the protesters it is facing on its campaign trail are not farmers but Congress workers.
BJP-JJP alliance facing heat in Haryana
While the BJP is out of power in Punjab, in Haryana, farmers have made in-power BJP-Jannayak Janata Party legislators sit at homes. They are shown black flags wherever they go.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s venue was vandalised and his cavalcade was forced back with black flags shown in Ambala recently. Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala had a temporary helipad in his constituency Jind uprooted to prevent his arrival. Outside many villages, boards bar entry of BJP and JJP leaders.
In Haryana, panchayat elections are due to be held in February, but candidates associated with BJP-JJP are not allowed to contest the elections. The farmers’ protest has helped revive khap panchayats in Haryana. It may be known that the khaps hold a special power at the local level in the state. People follow and listen to khap leaders more than legislators.
There are almost 120 khaps in Haryana, spread across nine districts, that make up the state’s Jat belt — Jind, Rohtak, Sonepat, Rewari, Mahendragarh, Charkhi Dadri, Hisar, Bhiwani and Jhajjar. The farmer protests augurs well for khaps and Jats in Haryana as they seem to be coming back to prominence in state politics, which is a sign of worry for Khattar’s government.
Khaps across Haryana have unanimously decided to boycott BJP-JJP leaders in the panchayat elections. They have also decided to pressure the JJP to withdraw its support to the BJP. A JJP pullout can lead to the Khattar government’s fall. In the 2019 assembly polls, the BJP won 40 seats out of 90 and formed the government in a post-poll alliance with the Dushyant Chautala-led JJP, which won 10 seats.