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Farmer Protests – The “Sanjeevani Booti” that is Reviving the BJP Opposition Parties in India

These protests have once again allowed these political parties to be active on the ground and connect with the ordinary people, especially farmers, of the country.

Since coming to power in the year 2014, the resurgence of the BJP after Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been monumental. They won almost every election they contested after 2014 including the landslide win in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Though this has largely been due to the public image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the mind of Home Minister Amit Shah, as the duo successfully converted the Gujarat model into a National model and have held the fort ever since.

At the same time, they have been largely helped by the inefficiency and collective absence of all the opposition parties in the country, whether National in the form of Congress and CPI (M) or Regional in the form of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP).

However, the passing of the three farm laws and the Farmer protests that ensued in reaction to them may have proved to be the “Sanjeevani Booti for all these parties and many others, giving something to attack the BJP with. These protests have once again allowed these political parties to be active on the ground and connect with the ordinary people, especially farmers, of the country.

Congress (INC)

On 15th of January, 2021, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi led the party’s protest in the national capital in support of the agitating farmers, and said his party will not relent till the new farm laws are repealed. He was accompanied by AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other leaders of the Delhi Congress at the protest outside the Delhi LG’s residence here as part of the countrywide agitation.

Addressing the gathering, the former Congress chief said the Congress party will not step back till the time the government repeals these three farm laws.

“These laws are not to help farmers but to finish them. These laws are aimed at helping corporates like Ambani and Adani instead. That is why we are standing in favour of the farmers. The BJP government will have to take these black laws back. Till the time these laws are repealed, Congress party will not relent”, he said.

On January 22nd, 2021, referring to the ongoing talks between the Centre and farmers, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said,

“The agitation of farmers continues and the government has shown shocking insensitivity and arrogance going through the charade of consultations. It is abundantly clear that the three laws were prepared in haste and Parliament was consciously denied an opportunity for examining in any meaningful detail their implications and impacts. Our position has been very clear from the very beginning: we reject them categorically because they will destroy the foundations of food security that are based on the three pillars of MSP [minimum support price], public procurement and PDS [public distribution system]”.

Congress Uttar Pradesh unit chief Ajay Kumar Lallu also reached the Ghazipur border to express solidarity with the farmers’ movement. He said that;

“The Congress stands with full force in support of the farmers and the Congress will not allow the farmers’ movement to become weak at any level.”

He also assured the farmer leaders that his party will stand by them and fight till the withdrawal of the three controversial agricultural laws enacted by the BJP led Central Government.

Samajwadi Party (SP)

On the 14th of December, 2020, the Samajwadi Party workers held demonstrations in various places of Uttar Pradesh in support of agitating farmers demand to scrap the three central farm laws and clashed with police at some places in the state. In Lucknow, the SP workers clashed with police in the Kaisarbagh area on being stopped from proceeding to the district collectorate. Several SP workers, including women, were also taken into custody. In Agra too, television footage showed police using mild force to disperse protesting Samajwadi Party workers.

Following demonstrations by its workers during the day, the Samajwadi Party accused the police of resorting to “barbaric” lathi-charge against its workers at several places in the state and arresting “thousands” of party leaders and workers. “On directives of party president Akhilesh Yadav, workers held peaceful sit-ins in all districts. The police, however, engaged in barbaric lathi-charge and arrested thousands of party leaders and workers,” SP chief spokesman Rajendra Chowdhury said in a statement.

In his reaction to the police action against SP activists, Akhilesh Yadav said his party will continue to protest against the BJP government which, he said, is “killing democracy”.

“By stopping peaceful protests, the BJP government is killing democracy. Despite the atrocities of the BJP government, the party would continue its protest inside and outside the legislature. In 2022, after the formation of SP government, we will take farmer-friendly measures and they will be given due honour and security”, said the SP chief envisaging his return to power after the 2022 UP assembly elections.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) also announced on 23rd of January, 2021, that it will reach out to farmers across the state on Republic Day, hold flag-hoisting rallies in all tehsils and put up the Tricolour and the party’s flag on tractors. Directions have been issued to party workers accordingly, the SP chief said in a statement that;

“Party workers should reach out to every village, every home and every farmer. And on January 26 (on Republic Day), flag hoisting rally should be held in all tehsils across the state. The national flag and the SP’s flag should be hoisted on tractors.”

Akhilesh Yadav said farmers have been protesting against the new agri laws for nearly two months in a peaceful manner, but the government has turned a deaf ear. He also voiced support for the protesting farmers’ decision to hold a tractor parade on Republic Day.

Samajwadi Party legislators on 18th of February, 2021, also staged a protest outside the Uttar Pradesh Assembly building here in support of the farmers’ agitation before the beginning of the state’s budget session.  Raising slogans against the government and in favour of farmers, the SP lawmakers sat before the statue of former prime minister and kisan leader Chaudhary Charan Singh in the Vidhan Bhawan compound and demanded that the Centre’s three new agri laws be repealed.  They also carried banners and placards criticising the state government for the alleged rise in crime against women, hike in LPG, petrol and diesel prices and pending cane dues among others. 

Earlier, some legislators had arrived on a tractor carrying the party flag , sugarcane and a sack with ‘dhaan’ written on it as a mark of protest but were stopped by policemen.

Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP)

In a tweet on 19th of January, 2020, BSP president Mayawati said,

“The central government should adopt a sympathetic approach, and not be stubborn, while dealing with the protesting farmers and accept their demands. The BSP demands that the three new farm laws should be withdrawn.”

Joining the agitating farmers at the Ghazipur protest site, the BSP supremo announced that her party will boycott the President’s address to the joint sitting of both Houses over the Centre’s stand on the farmers’ demand to repeal the new agri laws and its “dilly-dallying” approach on matters of public interest.

In a Tweet Mayawati said that,

“In protest over (the Centre) not accepting the farmers’ demand of repealing the three controversial agri laws and adopting a dilly-dallying approach in matters of public interest, the BSP has decided to boycott the President’s address in Parliament.”

She also added in another tweet on the same thread that:

“Also, I request the Centre to take back the farm laws and normalize the situation in Delhi. Innocent farmers should not be made a scapegoat in the wake of the violence on Republic Day. There is a lot of truth in the objection of BKU and other leaders from UP in this matter.”

Targeting the BJP over heavy barricading and barb wiring of the protest sites Maywati said in a tweet on 3rd February, 2021 that;

“The multi-layered barricading, barbed wires and roadblocks at Delhi’s borders to “threaten” protesting farmers is not appropriate and the Centre should fulfil their demand of repealing the new agri laws. Due to the government’s attitude towards the agitating farmers, who are demanding the withdrawal of the agricultural laws, essential work of the Budget session of Parliament and discussions on special issues of public interest are getting affected. At the same time, the barricading, barbed wire and nails (on roads) etc. on the borders of Delhi to threaten families of lakhs of agitated farmers is not appropriate. Instead of this, it would be better if such action is on the borders of the country to stop terrorists.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)

On December 5, 2020, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), along with other Mahagathbandhan parties held a demonstration in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan in solidarity with agitating farmers across the country. RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav addressing the media said that;

“The bill is against farmers, and we demand that the Centre repeals the black laws and resolve all the issues of farmers. In India more than 60 per cent people are farmers. We stand with their demands. Along with RJD, all parties of Mahagathbandhan are part of the protest “

There was also a direct head-to-head between the protesting opposition parties and the Bihar Chief Minister (JDU-BJP alliance) when the later compared the move of the former to form Human Chains in support of the farmers to his own Human Chains campaign back in the day and said that, “It is nice that others are also drawing inspiration. Everybody has the right to hold such programmes”. Attacking him back, Tejaswi Yadav said;

“It is a petty remark. Is he the first person to have ever held a human chain? He should instead make his stand clear on the new farm laws.”

The RJD had also taken part in the 2017 human chain while it shared power with Nitish Kumar’s party. Its jailed supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was then out on bail, had stood at Gandhi Maidan to demonstrate his support for liquor ban.

RJD national spokesperson Manoj Jha said: “The human chains sponsored by the Chief Minister depended upon the bureaucracy for its success. Officials concerned were given targets of turnouts to achieve. What is happening here today is spontaneous.” Mr Jha, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha, described the Centre’s talks with protesting farmers as “a monologue, instead of a dialogue, a reason why Delhi’s borders at Singhu and Ghazipur have been on fire.”

Prominent among those who took part in the human chain at the state capital were CPI(ML) secretary general Dipankar Bhattacharya and Congress legislature party leader Ajeet Sharma. In Nawada, local Congress MLA Neetu Singh was among those who participated in the demonstration. In Begusarai, Congress, the RJD and Left workers stood in front of the district headquarters to show solidarity with the farmers.

On February 6, 2021, after many celebrities came out in support of the BJP when the Hollywood Singer Rihanna, adult film industry star Mia Khalifa, and child climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in support of the farmer protest, RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari attacked the central government saying the Union government “fielded” Sachin Tendulkar to “counter” international personalities who recently commented on the ongoing farmers’ protests, and said it was an insult to the nation. The RJD’s national vice-president asked whether the Centre wants the world to turn a blind eye to the farmer’s stir by “getting statements issued by people like Tendulkar”.

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh announced RLD’s support to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), the members of which are staging a protest against the Centre’s new farm laws at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border. The former Union minister spoke to BKU president Naresh Tikait and spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, RLD vice president and his son Jayant Chaudhary said.

“It is a matter of life and death for farmers, but do not worry. All have to stay together, united in this — this is Chaudhary saahab’s (Ajit Singh”s) message”.

On the 18th of February, 2021, Jayant Chaudhary, directly attacking BJP said that the Centre is using the “divide and rule policy” used by the British to suppress the ongoing farmers’ protest against the new Agri laws, Rashtriya Lok Dal vice-president Jayant Chaudhary said on Thursday. The agitation was first dubbed as a “Khalistani movement” and then called a “Jats’ movement” when it is the fight of all farmers, Chaudhary said while addressing a ‘mahapanchayat’ in western Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura district.

Taking a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chaudhary said he “is such a strong prime minister that he is now standing against farmers”. The RLD leader alleged the government is trying to divide farmers to end the protest. “They are using the divide and rule policy which was used by the British to suppress India’s freedom movement,” he said. “First they called this a Khalistani movement, then they said this is a protest only by the Jat community when the reality is that it is the fight of all farmers in the country,” he added. Chaudhary also hit out at the government over the registration of FIRs against journalists, activists and artistes in different parts of the country for criticizing it. He called on the gathering to support the farmers’ protests at Delhi’s border points of Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur.

Almost all of these parties had either become shadows or taken a backseat since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and BJP had made sure that they stay there. However, the Farmers’ agitation against the three new Farm Laws seems to have pumped new life into them and they are attacking the BJP, whenever they get the mic.

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Farzan Bashir

Farzan Bashir is a postgraduate in Law from Kashmir. Though he is qualified for the legal field, it is writing where he finds solace. Currently, you can find him scribbling for Digpu News Network.

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