Farmers protest: India’s Jats may be finally turning against the BJP

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Indian farmers protest march 30112018
Indian farmers continue to protest against three farm acts which were passed by the BJP government in September 2020
Image Credit: AFP

A social boycott of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been proposed by Naresh Tikait, brother of the much in news farmer leader Rakesh Tikait. Both belong to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) — one of India’s largest non-partisan farmers’ representative organisations.

This call and its fallout in the Khap (community organisation) dominated Jat belt of western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab has set alarm bells ringing in the 24/7 election headquarters of Amit Shah, BJP’s man for every season.

Consider the all important seat tally. Across the swathe of the Jat belt (Indian elections are profoundly caste based in North India), 40 important Lok Sabha seats will be in play.

Social boycott on cards?

And, if the call goes out that the “hookah paani” (social boycott) of the saffron party were to happen, BJP’s electoral citadel UP — which has given it two back to back Lok Sabha victories — will be in serious trouble.

It is now much than about the three farm laws. The only thing that BJP takes seriously is the electoral maths and winning at all costs. The only saving grace for the party is that the UP elections is a year away and a year is a long time in Indian politics. Will the protesters be able to sustain an agitation alongside the sowing and reaping calendar of the farmers?

But, before the UP elections is a very important semi-final for Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of UP, who aspires to be the first saffron monk prime minister of India.

Yogi Adityanath has to ensure that the BJP retains its Jat base in the upcoming zila panchayat (District Council) elections in UP. BJP had won 25 out of the 26 zila panchayats in West UP last time.

The path to power

The road to New Delhi and Raisina Hill comes straight from Lucknow as I keep reminding you dear readers and Yogi Adityanath has read the tea leaves.

Now the BJP is in desperate damage control mode. It’s Jat face Sanjeev Balyan, minister for state in the Modi government, who belongs to the same khap as the Tikaits, was in UP yesterday testing waters. The waters were boiling as the he was shown black flags and asked to go back by the angry Jats.

The BJP has been trying to claim that farmer anger is confined to Punjab. That is now palpably untrue. India’s ruling party was last week wiped out in the municipal elections in Punjab, with the Congress sweeping the elections. So yes the Punjab farmers are livid but, the farm laws have united farmers in anger across north India, which is a worrisome prospect for the BJP.

A dash of perspective here: The BJP electoral juggernaut started in Muzaffarnagar in western UP with the 2013 riots between Jats and Muslims who were earlier united in a commercial and agrarian bond. Now the Muslims and Jats are coming together, with the BKU saying that communal forces destroyed the enduring bond between the two communities.

Opposition push back

The Jat vote being in play has made many leaders across north India ambitious. Sachin Pilot, erstwhile deputy chief minister of Rajasthan has been addressing and organising huge Kisan mahapanchayats (massive congregation of people from several areas, led by leaders in rural areas) across Rajasthan and is trying the mantle of Congress’s “Kisan neta” for size.

Pilot has outsize ambitions but, is also an extremely hard working leader and is doing his best to seize the zeitgeist. Perhaps, in his case the road to the Jaipur secretariat goes through the Kisan mahapanchayats.

It is an audacious quest by Pilot undertaken because for the first time the Jat community has sunk its differences across states. This is a huge worry for the BJP. If the Jats unite against the party it will lose its government in Haryana, its voter base in Punjab but, most importantly the political space in Western UP and Rajasthan.

Because they are a dominant community, the Jats exercise a massive influence on the vote specially with the Khaps laying down the law and using social boycott as a weapon in the villages.

Every leader in India knows this which is why the Jats are treated with kid gloves. BJP tried gloves-are-off move and has found it painful.

Pilot is now trying a new electoral run way and Yogi is trying to reinvent his Thakur first image in UP.

Before UP goes to polls next year, the state of West Bengal will vote soon. And, the Bengal voters will show us — analysts — the real directions.



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