Western UP contributes nearly 70 seats to the 402-member UP assembly.
In 2017, the BJP had swept the region.
Every pre-2022 poll survey had suggested the party would face its biggest attrition from this region because of the farmers’ groups.
IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party supporters take out a tractor rally after the announcement of repealing the three farm laws in Agra, November 27, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo
Political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have begun revising their electoral strategies for the upcoming assembly polls, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that the three farm laws that has drawn strong protests in western UP, Haryana, and Punjab, would be repealed.
There is no clarity on what prompted the PM to withdraw laws that the government had strained every sinew to justify as progressive. But the fact that the repeal came days after an exhaustive session of the party’s national executive where strategies for the state polls were discussed and the party referred only in passing to farmers agitating against the laws, suggests feedback from the ground prompted the move.
Only one political resolution was passed at the meeting and it had no reference to farm laws. At her press conference, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman merely said Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar was in dialogue with farmers on the laws.
Although the decision to reverse the laws would have had no impact on the BJP’s prospects in Punjab if it had, as announced, decided to contest all the seats on its own, it is possible that the party will now tie up with former Congress chief minister Amarinder Singh’s new party.
How the alliance shapes up is yet to be seen but Singh gave a clear hint that working with the BJP was a clear possibility now.
‘Great news! Thankful to PM @narendramodiji for acceding to the demands of every Punjabi and repealing the three black laws on the pious occasion of #GuruNanakJayanti. I am sure the central govt will continue to work in tandem for the development of Kisani! (sic),’ Captain Singh tweeted.
In Punjab, the party that will now be pushed further on the backfoot is the Shiromani Akali Dal, which had walked out of its alliance with the BJP on the issue of farm laws.
Upon the repeal, the party sought to claim the credit for ‘leading’ the farmer resistance to the law, while congratulating the BJP on its move, possibly hoping to rekindle the alliance.
‘This is the greatest event in the history of farmer struggles all over the world,’ SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal said, while adding,’it was the first time in the history of democratic governments that brazen and cruel laws were made without even taking the stakeholders on board. No government should ever do such an insensitive and cruel thing again.’
The Congress, which is currently in power in the state, announced loudly that it had been vindicated in helping farmers resist the laws. Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi said the BJP-led central government should ‘admit on record to having made a Himalayan blunder in introducing these Bills’, adding that for one year, the Centre did not bother to revisit the laws. But the Congress focused more on compensation for those who had died during the protests.
But the repeal will have the biggest impact in Uttar Pradesh where farmer organisations have managed to sustain protests against the laws for nearly a year, forcing all political parties to tailor their strategies around the protests.
The state BJP has been working to spread the message that it increased the fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane for the sugar season that started in October 2021, at Rs 290 per quintal, an increase of Rs 5 over the last year.
It also speaks of the Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi, which ensures Rs 6,000 annually for small farmers. This has cut little ice, as agitating farmers retort that high diesel prices, and costlier power rates have made farming unremunerative and if the government does not assure it will continue to procure wheat, it should fix a minimum support price (MSP) below which no one should be allowed to procure.
While the recent panchayat elections in UP had jolted the BJP, which performed extremely poorly, the party had made up in the urban bodies elections later. However, other parties had quickly moved into the breach.
Samajwadi Party National President and former CM Akhilesh Yadav has been organising cycle yatras and meetings to highlight farmer issues in the state since December 2020. The state party president, Naresh Uttam Patel, has been trying to put caste alliances in place to forge a rainbow coalition of intermediate castes, including the Jats who have dominated the agitation against the farm laws.
Close on its heels, the Rashtriya Lok Dal — which has traditionally been a big player in western UP, has held virtually a door-to-door campaign, worrying the BJP no end. Legendary Jat farmer leader Charan Singh’s grandson Jayant Choudhary was among the few political figures to be allowed on stage during farmer protests. The Congress has been loud in support of the farmers, but has seen its base eroding in western UP.
Western UP contributes nearly 70 seats to the 402-member UP assembly. In 2017, the BJP had swept the region. Every survey had suggested the party would face its biggest attrition from this region because of ‘non-state’ actors — the supposedly non-political farmers’ group.
Modi has visited Eastern Uttar Pradesh four times, so far, to unveil new infrastructure projects. But visits to Western UP have not materialised beyond a September trip to set up a university named after Raja Mahendra Prasad Singh, an important Jat leader from Aligarh and a visit to Greater Noida for the inauguration of the Jewar airport on September 25.
Politically the decks have been cleared for more such trips after the repeal of the farm laws.