Friday, Jun 02, 2023

Will Karnal Farmers’ Protest Spell Trouble For BJP In Haryana, UP & Punjab?

Will Karnal Farmers’ Protest Spell Trouble For BJP In Haryana, UP & Punjab?

The protestors who have taken siege of the mini-Secretariat in Karnal, a constituency represented by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, seem to be in no mood to back down.

Farmers' protest continues at Karnal's mini secretariat PTI

As the impasse between the Haryana government and protesting farmers continue, its political implications are likely to spill over the neighbouring states Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where Assembly elections are due early next year.

The protestors who have taken siege of the mini-Secretariat in Karnal,  a constituency represented by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, seem to be in no mood to back down.

The talks between the administration and farmers failed to reach any consensus as protestors stuck to their demand for action against IAS officer Ayush Sinha, who had ordered a police lathi-charge on protesting farmers on August 28.

The farmer unions’ main demand is to dismiss Sinha from service and book him on charges of murder as they hold him responsible for the death of a farmer Sushil Kajal. The unions say that Kajal died after ‘police action’ last month.

Though the administration suspended mobile internet services and imposed section 144 in Karnal, the farmers union’s resolve to intensify the stir is likely to spell more trouble for the state government. The farmer leaders have announced that more supporters will be joining the siege from UP and Punjab.

The continuing agitations will put the BJP-JJP alliance government in spot as Haryana, which boasts of 27 percent of Jat population, has been on the edge since the protests erupted at the Delhi borders less than year back.

When the farmer protests began in December, at least seven MLAs of its alliance partner Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), raised rebellion over the three farm bills, passed by the Union government in September. Though there were talks of JJP severing ties with the BJP, Deputy Chief Minister and JJP leader Dushyant Chautala managed to bury the difference with the BJP central leadership.

A JJP leader told Outlook that there is widespread anger against the state government as it failed to gauge the sentiments of the agrarian community. “The protesting farmers haven’t allowed the CM to appear in any public meeting since the agitation started. It shows their anger,” he says.

The Khattar government also faces pressure from the main opposition party Congress who have stepped up criticism and campaigns against the government.

Haryana Congress state chief Kumari Selja told Outlook that the police action against the farmers was unwarranted and the Khattar government should have reached out to the farmers.

“It is for the first time perhaps that you hear a senior officer giving orders to break someone’s head. What kind of government is this? And then they don't take any action against the officer. Many farmers have been injured in the lathi charge,” said Selja.

Kumari Selja also said that the Congress has been organising agitations in district and state levels to support the farmers’ demands.

 “This government brought in the farm laws without any discussions and legislative scrutiny. They didn't allow it to go to the Standing Committee. Now they talk of amendments. Why didn't they do it earlier? Why didn't they take public opinion before introducing the law?,” she says.

Another opposition party and breakaway faction, The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), is also mobilising support with the active involvement of party chief and former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala. Its lone MLA Abhay Chautala resigned as legislature from the assembly in January last year in support of protesting farmers. In an earlier interview to Outlook, he said that he resigned to protect the legacy of his grandfather and former deputy prime minister Chaudhary Devi Lal.

Political observers say that the impact of the Karnal protests will spill over to poll bound states Uttar Pradesh and Punjab which have common interest in farming. While in UP, the Yogi Adityanath government is seeking a second term, the party is on a weak footing in Punjab after its long-time ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) severing ties over farm laws.  

Last week, Muzzafarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh witnessed unprecedented gathering of farmers in a ‘mahapanchayat’ ‘convened by several farmer unions.

Surinder S Jodhka, professor of sociology, JNU sees the current protests as the consolidation of multiple groups. Jodhka, who has done extensive studies among farmer Jats and other caste groups in Haryana and UP, says that the struggle is more about economic issues than identity issues.

“It will spill over to UP and Punjab since they all share agricultural connections. Haryana is going to lose as much as Punjab. It’s not simply caste and religion that binds them together in this. The agitation is not confined to Jats. The farmers are not using caste language and it’s not an identity struggle.  It’s a struggle around economic issues,”he says.  .

Jodhka adds that the political socialisation on the ground will adversely impact the ruling dispensations in the poll bound states.

“All the agrarian communities whether it’s Gujjar or any other, it’s the agrarian interests that bind them together. That is why the agitation is likely to last. They are aware that after the MSP is gone, they will have very limited income and fluctuations in the market,"he says.