Farm laws’ repeal mainly influenced by BJP’s high stakes in Western UP

The farmers’ agitation had the potential of turning the polls around, mainly in Uttar Pradesh, into a virtual referendum over the three laws

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his trusted deputy Amit Shah have largely stayed away from Western Uttar Pradesh till now owing to the farmers' agitation. Pic: PTI

Can the recent flip-flop over the three farm laws affect the forthcoming elections in five states or not is a moot though key question at the moment, which can be answered only after the outcome of polls.

One thing though is pretty clear that the farmers’ agitation had the potential of turning the polls around, mainly in Uttar Pradesh, into a virtual referendum over the three laws.

The polls could have easily put the fate of the contentious legislations at stake in case these remained on the statute books until the elections. The year-long farmers’ stir has been confined mainly to western Uttar Pradesh, besides Punjab, Haryana and some parts of Rajasthan. Punjab too is poll-bound like UP. The BJP-run Centre, however, attaches a little more importance to Uttar Pradesh because the party has a marginal presence in Punjab.

Thus, it is evident that high stakes in the upcoming state assembly polls prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce the withdrawal of the three laws on November 19. Yet, the PM’s extraordinary step has not been able to buy him complete peace with the agitating farmers. One can say that only the main bone of contention has been done away with.

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Yet for the Centre, the repeal of laws has clearly lowered the stakes which could have otherwise easily got appended to the state-level polls. An adverse outcome in elections could have cast a shadow over the Prime Minister’s leadership. With farmers besieging the gates of Delhi and the government looking the other way for quite a few months after talks broke down, farmers started to confront BJP leaders during their visits to rural parts of Western UP. This was also the case throughout Punjab and Haryana. These confrontations were rife with the possibility of degenerating into violent showdown between farmers and policemen accompanying the leaders.

Leaders stayed away from Western UP 

With polls approaching, BJP leaders were worried because they needed access to villages in western UP region for campaigning. The BJP’s top leaders clearly avoided visiting agitating farmers’ strongholds in the region though with a few exceptions. A farm leader, Savit Malik, flashed WhatsApp messages on November 8 about police confining him to his Shamli house since Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was visiting the nearby Kairana town the same day. Other BJP VIPs have generally been staying away from similar hotspots of farmers’ agitation in the area. Amit Shah has recently been to places like Varanasi and Azamgarh in Eastern UP but did not touch any part of Western UP, which has been put under his charge for campaigning.

Modi too has been to Lucknow, Sultanpur and Bundelkhand, but is likely to visit Jewar, off NOIDA in Gautam Budh Nagar, only on Thursday (November 25) to lay the foundation stone of a new international airport. Earlier, he has been to Kushinagar which is again in Eastern UP, to open another airport. There has been an obvious uneasiness leading to virtual house arrest of farm rights activists during the visit of the BJP higher ups in Western UP; and it has been so until the Prime Minister announced the repeal of the three farm laws. Now before Modi’s Jewar visit, the Union Cabinet is likely to meet on Wednesday, or November 24, to endorse the repeal of farm laws.

Yogi vs Central leaders

The BJP’s Uttar Pradesh campaign appears to be giving greater role to the Central leaders rather than depending solely on Yogi Adityanath. While Amit Shah has been given the charge of Western UP and Braj region, Rajnath Singh has been entrusted with Awadh and Kashi regions, which includes the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency represented by Modi himself. Party president JP Nadda, on the other hand, is to oversee the Gorakhpur-Kanpur region. In any case, Modi is going to be the centre-piece of his party’s campaign in UP. Yet, the presence of three other top Central leaders in the campaign has been warranted amid revocation of farm laws by the PM. This is indicative of the possibility of his image taking a bit of a dent from that of a strong leader who could well have his way to someone who can be pressurized to bend.

Nevertheless, Modi’s shows in UP have thus far been like big carnivals and it is going to be so when he visits Jewar on Thursday. Huge crowds come to listen to him though this has also been the case with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, who has claimed that the crowds to PM’s rallies are marshaled in buses by officials of UP Government whereas the SP shows prompt people to come on their own. Surprisingly though, Akhilesh too has preferred to stay away from Western UP. The reason for this is that Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary, who is likely to enter into an alliance with the SP, has been taking care of the western part of the State.

Also read: Modi’s repeal of farm laws may not cut ice in poll-bound UP, Punjab

The alliance of the two parties, however, may not have as much social cohesion between Jats and Yadavs as could be the case among different backward castes in Eastern UP. The reason for this is that out of the 80 assembly constituencies spread from Bareilly to Bijnor division in Western UP, only Agra and Aligarh divisions have a majority of Yadav voters while the rest is mostly dominated by the Jat peasantry. Will the RLD’s voter base of Jats and Gujars stand by SP candidates in the area remains to be seen. Significantly, Modi had visited Aligarh a couple of months ago, making this his only visit to anywhere in Western UP in recent times.

Caste tangle

In Eastern UP, Akhilesh has been wooing backward caste voters, besides his Yadav caste-men. He has entered into an alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and is in talks with a few other smaller parties. Earlier, Rajbhar has been in alliance with the BJP which now has been left with only partners: Sanjay Nishad’s Nishad Party and Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal. These parties still have an understanding with the BJP, giving it a foothold among a section of backward castes.

But in the 2017 elections in UP, the BJP had a bigger sway over backward caste voters since the party saw to it that caste distinctions could be bridged over through its majoritarian thrust. This drew its strength from the alleged minorities’ appeasement of the rival parties. After coming to power, Yogi Adityanath could not have the party’s majoritarian edge. Not only Rajbhar quit the team of Yogi’s ministers, but Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya too was thought to be kept on the margins of power. As a solo player, Yogi is generally blamed for marginalising Brahmins in the State. During his Sultanpur visit, Modi paid glowing tributes to former Congress UP Chief Minister, late Sripati Mishra, a Brahmin, who hailed from the district.

Priyanka’s she-card

This points to BJP’s efforts to trump over the caste divide in UP once again. As against this, Congress, which has been greatly marginalised in the State for over three decades decided to place its bet on women-savvy positioning. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has offered to field 40 per cent women candidates in UP, besides announcing other sops to woo women voters. In case Priyanka’s efforts actually catch up with women voters, some of the Brahmins may well throw their weight behind the Congress. This is thought to be possible since BJP, precisely Yogi, has alienated them.

Also read: Peasants’ anger over farm laws not BJP’s only challenge in UP

So the pitch for the BJP is not the same again in UP. Farmers in Western UP are annoyed with the party, though the state government has been telling them that the three farm laws were meant to give them a greater leeway with the market. The first of the three laws gave farmers an additional option of selling outside the Mandi system. The second allowed them to freely enter into contracts with corporations or bulk buyers of the farm yield. And the third, removed any restrictions on stocking and storage to free up prices of agricultural products.

Farmers emboldened

Yet, farmers rejected all the three laws and the Centre revoked them amid fears of corporate monopoly over the farm sector where the prices could go down once the monopoly is complete. Farmers are now demanding a guaranteed minimum price for their produce and greater degree of procurement by government-run mandis. The farmers’ movement, which was struggling to gain strength in UP beyond its Western parts, is now reaching Lucknow where cultivators held a mega show on Monday (November 23) in the hope to make the government relent further.

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