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Business News/ Politics / Lok Sabha elections 2024: The political impact of 2020-21 farmers' protest
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Lok Sabha elections 2024: The political impact of 2020-21 farmers' protest

Despite the rather violent 2020-21 farmers' protest, the BJP won significantly in 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections, especially the farming Western UP, concentrated with a significant Jat population who largely backed the demonstration.

A protesting farmer carries wet gunnysacks which they throw on tear gas shells shot by the police near Shambhu border (AP)Premium
A protesting farmer carries wet gunnysacks which they throw on tear gas shells shot by the police near Shambhu border (AP)

Months before the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab 2022, a significant farmers' protest had started to emerge at the Delhi borders, presenting a formidable challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- the states with a substantial farming population. Then, the farmers had gathered with their demands just months before the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in 2022. The 13-month long protest ended in December 2021 with the withdrawal of three farm laws and a promise to meet other demands gradually.

Just over two years since the 2020-21 farmers' protests, tens of thousands of farmers from Punjab and Haryana protesting for guaranteed crop prices along Punjab-Haryana borders, reminiscent of similar protests by farmers along Delhi borders in 2020-21.

There was speculation that the protest would sway the fortunes for the BJP in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls held within two months of the protest. The impact was expected in the Assembly polls in Punjab, largely an agrarian state, too.

UTTAR PRADESH

In February-March 2022, all eyes were on UP elections since the state has a substantial farming community, especially among the Jat community in the districts in the western part. The Lakhimpur Kheri SUV ramming incident of October 2021 involving BJP leader and Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni's son, Ashish Mishra was also fresh on the minds during UP Assembly polls.

As the results came, the BJP reigned supreme on 85 seats out of the 126 across 24 districts of western Uttar Pradesh -- just 15 down from the 2017 Assembly elections, which was expected considering the incumbency of the Yogi Adityanath-led government in the state.

The saffron party lost all three seats in Shamli district, four of the seven seats in Meerut, and four of the six seats in Muzaffarnagar - all three are Jat-dominated districts - but swept Agra, Mathura, Aligarh - districts with sizable Jat population. Hence, negating the notion that the farmers' protest had exerted an influence on its Jat support base.

With Jats throwing their weight on the farmers' protest, the BJP had tried to woo the Gujjars by honouring prominent leaders such as Dhan Singh Kotwal, who is said to have played a major role in the freedom struggle in 1857, and Raja Mihir Bhoj. Certain BJP leaders held the belief that the votes of various communities coalesced in favour of the BJP, attributing this to the participation of Sikh Jats in the protests.

Gujjars hold a significant influence in Gautam Budh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Saharanpur and Bulandshahr. In the 2022 UP Assembly elections, BJP won all seats in Gautam Budh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr districts and five seats in Saharanpur district.

In Lakhimpur Kheri, the BJP won all Assembly seats.

“Despite the disturbances and farmers' killing, BJP won all seats Assembly seats in Lakhimpur Kheri. Caste factor dominated there. The election went into a Sikh vs Brahman fight," Sudhir Panwar, ex-member of UP Planning Commission, told LiveMint. Also Read | Does farmers' protest lack potential to rattle Centre this time?

Overall, the popular mandate tilted towards the BJP as it won 255 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly negating all the impact of farmers' protest.

"Jats also end up voting in significant numbers for the BJP in the Lok Sabha...And sometimes, when the assertion for a protest comes from the dominant caste in a state, other castes get polarised against them because of their insecurities," a BJP leader told the Indian Express.

About two years later, as farmers protest again with a series of demands including a law to guarantee minimum support price for crops, a lot has changed politically and protests impacting BJP remain unlikely.

In the run up to Lok Sabha elections, RLD, the political party of western UP with a sizeable support base among Jats in western Uttar Pradesh, has reportedly decided to join the NDA camp. This soon after the government of India decided to confer Bharat Ratna on former Prime Minister and farmer leader Chaudhury Charan Singh and architect of green revolution MS Swaminathan.

So will this farmers' protest politically impact the Lok Sabha elections? Sudhir Panwar adds: “We can't say if this farmers' protest will have an impact on the Lok Sabha polls but the narrative that the BJP had set with the inaugural ceremony of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the farmers' protest has shifted attention away from it...to real life issues. This will also be a factor in the elections. But nobody knows how this will unfold."

Columnist Devinder Sharma told LiveMint, “We have always seen that farmers, being unorganised, get divided on the basis of caste, political ideology and so on....If farmers unite to advocate for income-related issues, they can have tremendous influence on the political scenario. Kisaan should stand-up for kisaani but they get divided. The parties know that the caste card will work. Kisaan can play a role if they understand that first is kisaani and then other ideologies."

PUNJAB

In Punjab, an agrarian state, while the ruling Congress was busy in handling the infighting, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the elections with a brute majority in 2022 UP Assembly polls. The Party contested 117 Assembly seats and won 92, a major jump from the 20 it won in the 217 Assembly polls. The Congress, which won 77 seats in 2017 polls, dropped to 18 seats in 2022. The BJP, getting its hopes up after scrapping the three farm laws, won only 2 seats, down from 3 it bagged in the 2017 polls.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chanchal
Chanchal is a chief content producer at LiveMint. Chanchal is obsessed with Google incognito. She likes writing, politics, Oxford comma, Eddie Vedder, and a good keyboard. Follow her @chanchaltracks. If you have a story idea, send her a mail at chanchal@htdigital.in
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Published: 19 Feb 2024, 04:46 PM IST
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