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The growing tussle between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and farmers is now becoming an electoral challenge for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the states where resentment is growing are scheduled to go to polls over the next two years.

West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Assam are among states slated to hold Assembly elections over the next 18 months.

“We had opposed the three Bills when they were introduced in Parliament and had repeatedly asked for parliamentary scrutiny. Now that the farmers have stepped up their protest in the national capital, the government’s own allies are also raising questions. We will continue to raise the issue whether in elections or otherwise. In Punjab, too, it was former Congress president Rahul Gandhi who first steered the protests against the Bills in October," a senior Congress lawmaker said, requesting anonymity.

The development is also crucial because this is the first time in the second tenure of the NDA that a policy decision initiated by the Union government could become a rallying point in an election. The seven states are also crucial because the BJP is trying to take political centre stage in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu along with its alliance partners and is keen to retain its electoral and political dominance in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam.

“The protests are an attempt by the opposition to misguide farmers and people of the state against the farm laws. We have maintained that these laws would benefit the farmers in getting remunerative prices but there is a concerted attempt by opposition parties to use false information against the Union government. The Union government is trying to explain to farmers that these laws would not threaten their livelihood," said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.

The problem for the BJP is also significant because in most of the seven states the party had performed well in both the Assembly polls and 2019 general elections. The BJP had won 96 Lok Sabha seats of the total 213 constituencies in these seven states.

The decision of farm laws and handling of protesting farmers would also impact the political and electoral prospects of BJP in Punjab where the NDA lost its most trusted alliance partner, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) because of resentment against the farm laws.

BJP’s alliance partners, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) in Haryana and Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party in Rajasthan, have also supported the farmers and are now standing with opposition parties against the farm laws.

For the opposition, the farm protests could be a key rallying point against the policy decisions of the Centre. This was visible when almost all main opposition parties, including regional parties, extended support to the Bharat Bandh called by farmers on Tuesday.

This includes political parties, which are either in power in the poll-bound states or have key stakes in the upcoming polls. Those supporting the bandh include the Congress, which is incumbent in Punjab and is the main challenger in Kerala and Assam, West Bengal’s ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Left parties which are looking to return to power in Kerala, as well as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which are key challengers in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu respectively.

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