The Kisan Mahapanchayat held in Muzaffarnagar on Sunday will have raised the spirits of those hoping to bring down the Yogi Government in UP, next year. The large turnout of farmers, even if it was in the heartland of Jat politics, was another display of the strong sentiments against the three ‘farm’ laws. The various unions and organisations, along with the political outfits working in the background, put up a united front on the occasion and now plan to hold a ‘Bharat Bandh’ on 27 September. While BKU leader Rakesh Tikait has repeatedly exhorted farmers’ to vote against the BJP wherever elections take place, he has stopped short of endorsing any particular party. So, it will be a race to harvest these anti-BJP votes. (That the farmers have alienated many at the sites of their various blockades is another matter.)
Some may describe the refusal of the Union Government to withdraw the laws as a symptom of hubris, just as it lost power in Maharashtra by refusing to concede the Shiv Sena’s demands. Others will point out, however, that giving in to such pressure on issues fundamental to economic reform would cause greater long term damage. The government’s focus since the start of the farmers’ agitation has been to ensure the situation is not aggravated because of police high-handedness, particularly leading to loss of life. The farmers too have admirably exercised restraint despite attempts by elements to give the movement a militant turn.
The government has been open to talks on the content of the laws, hoping to convince the protestors on the necessity for the reform, but has made little headway. Only complete withdrawal is being demanded, because the landlords and ‘arhtiyas’ know very well that, if their monopoly is busted, eventually their state-sponsored easy pickings would end. It is impossible, now, for the governments at the Centre and the states to continue subsidising agriculture to ensure farmers’ income without doing something about increasing productivity and rationalising practices. With the landowning castes being turned against it, the BJP will need to inform the general populace about the imperatives of the laws if it wishes to avoid defeat at the hustings. It may also be noted that most of those involved in the agitation have not traditionally been BJP voters. They have backed various local and regional parties. It will require them to shift the entire bloc of votes to one or the other opposition party to defeat the BJP on the electoral front. Whether that will be done, and what impact it will have is still to be seen, but till then maintaining peace remains the priority.