Choudhary Savit Malik is a farm union leader based at Shamli in western Uttar Pradesh. He bemoans that farm hands and activists belonging to the Kisan Union led by him were not allowed to move beyond Loni in Ghaziabad when they were on their way to Delhi in tractor-trolleys recently.
The movement, according to him, was restricted and often blocked by Yogi Adityanath’s administration. He had to remain confined at home under police pressure at the beginning of the agitation in November and his union colleagues were slapped notices and even cases foisted by the police.
“Back from Loni, farmers held a march from the Shamli bus stand statue of valiant Army Havildar Abdul Hamid, who laid down his life in the 1965 war with Pakistan, to the statue of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, which is in another part of Shamli.
The two statues built in the town signify equal respect to national heroes that cuts across faiths and the farmers trudged along the distance between the two to honour the country’s ethos of amity between diverse sections of the society which has come under threat in Yogi’s regime,” remarks Malik.
The sharp communal divide
The farmer leader who was earlier with Youth Congress points to the sharp communal divide that dogs through areas around Muzaffarnagar and also afflicts large parts of Western UP. He says that this has now started ebbing out bit by bit and the farmers’ stir is playing a role in stemming out the “pulverisation of the society” brought by the BJP since Muzaffarnagar riots and thereafter under the rule of (Prime Minister) Modi and (Chief Minister) Yogi.
Now Jats, like farmers, from all other castes and sections are returning to parties other than the BJP in western UP, says Malik.
He recalls a recent visit of Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and grandson of the late Charan Singh, Jayant Chaudhary, to Baraut, near Bagpat, to address a Kisan Union rally.
Malik sees a role for non-BJP parties in rescuing UP from getting deeper into the communal mire which has been keeping the most thickly populated state of the country febrile with fear for years. This has been affecting lives and livelihood of most people in an otherwise one of the most fertile regions of the country with vast stretches of verdant farmlands as per Malik.
He adds that one of the BJP MLAs in Muzaffarnagar district, Avtar Singh Bhadana, has resigned from the party to support farmers’ struggle.
But, in the central and eastern parts of the state, things are different. Observers point to the growing clout of upper castes generally and Thakurs, or Rajputs, mainly in UP under Yogi’s reign. Both these parts are hardly affected by farmers’ uprising. The reason for the quiet in the two parts of the state is that most farmers in the two regions have small land holdings with yields lower than what is the case with farms in western UP. Substantial holdings are with mostly members belonging to the upper castes who have thrown their weight behind the BJP.
The result of this often gets reflected in the slogans like “Nun Roti Khayenge Bha Jaa Paa Ko Jitayenge” (Let’s make BJP win while subsisting on just chapaati and salt).
BJP’s social or caste engineering
In 2017 UP polls, the BJP succeeded in splitting castes into sub-castes, leaving the support-base of dominant castes like Yadavs and Jatavs numerically weakened. Myriad caste groups like Koeris, Pasis, Khatiks, Patels, Mauryas, and Mallahs moved towards the BJP, dumping the intermediaries like Yadavs and Jatavs, and their leaders. To override the caste challenge posed by Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, the BJP took to target Muslims more relentlessly than before. This has been more so after the rise of Yogi in UP politics.
This is why the chief minister is more bothered to control love and matrimony across faiths. These are rare and exceptional rather than being a norm as the BJP under Yogi has made it out to be and thereby avoids rising against the sectarian divide and communal fault-lines.
To provide an enabling atmosphere for the general wellbeing of people, or meeting the demands of public interest, appears to be a tall order, given the disinterest of Yogi in egalitarianism of any kind, point out observers and activists.
Thus, UP continues to languish in almost every respect but for projects like the temple being built in Ayodhya. Savouring this long-time obsession of the BJP, the party thinks to easily romp home in the next year’s polls. So Yogi is keeping the communal pot simmering, say his critics as his supporters look the other way in the deeply divided milieu that UP has of late turned out to be.
(The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He tweets @abidshahjourno)