PTC News Desk: The resurgence of farmers' protests, known as Protest 2.0, presents a formidable challenge for both Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP and the opposition INDIA bloc.
In 2020, farmers from Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh staged a year-long protest on the outskirts of Delhi, compelling the government to repeal three contentious farm laws in 2021. Currently, Delhi is fortified as farmers from over 200 unions gather at the city's borders following inconclusive talks with Union ministers. This protest coincides with the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, turning the national capital into a heavily guarded zone.
Just three years ago, farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested against the three farm laws enacted by the Modi government, garnering widespread attention and witnessing incidents like the January 26 tractor rally violence in 2021. On November 19, 2021, PM Modi announced the repeal of the contentious farm laws, responding to the long-standing demands of the protesting farmers.
For PM Modi, eyeing a historic third consecutive term akin to Jawaharlal Nehru's tenure, the resurfacing farm agitation poses a significant political test for the BJP ahead of the 2024 elections. Meanwhile, the opposition INDIA bloc, reminiscent of the 2004 upset that halted the Vajpayee-Advani regime, faces its own set of challenges amidst the renewed farmer protests.
Why are farmers' protests a test for BJP?
The farmers' protests pose a significant test for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it navigates its political strategy ahead of the upcoming elections. The party, riding high on recent electoral victories, particularly in the assembly elections, has been focused on maintaining its momentum. However, the farmers' agitation, primarily from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, presents a challenge, especially considering the political importance of these states.
In Punjab, which holds 13 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP faces a complex electoral landscape. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a significant player adds another layer of competition. Despite the INDIA bloc split, the BJP's hopes of capitalising on this division might be hindered. Although discussions about a potential alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) circulated, SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal denied any such talks.
In Haryana, where the BJP swept all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections, the party faces a different scenario. The state witnessed active farmer participation during the 2020 protests, and this continues to be a concern for the BJP. Despite a significant vote share in the last elections, the BJP is mindful of potential electoral challenges. It aims to offset any impact from the protests through its alliance with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), led by Dushyant Chautala.
Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, with its 80 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP aims to navigate the farmers' protests while maintaining its electoral dominance. The party's success in the previous elections, despite facing the Mahagathbandhan alliance, underscores its electoral strength. While the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is expected to formally ally with the BJP, the protests add a layer of complexity to the political landscape.
Overall, the farmers' protests present a multifaceted challenge for the BJP, requiring strategic maneuvering to address the concerns of the farming community while maintaining its electoral prospects in key states.
What's at stake for INDIA bloc in the farmers' protest?
The renewed farmers' protest poses significant stakes for the INDIA bloc, challenging its electoral prospects ahead of the impending Lok Sabha elections. While much attention has been on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its response to the protests, the opposition coalition faces its own set of challenges and opportunities.
With the exit of key allies like the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and the RLD, the INDIA alliance confronts an existential crisis. Moreover, announcements by prominent leaders such as Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal to contest elections independently further complicate the coalition's electoral strategy.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been vocal in his criticism of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP's handling of the farmers' protest. Through social media platforms, Gandhi has accused Modi of deceiving farmers and failing to fulfill promises of increased income and minimum support prices (MSP). He has also highlighted the plight of farmers, emphasising the need for justice and support from the government.
For the Congress party, the farmers' protest represents an opportunity to rejuvenate its presence in the Hindi heartland, where it has faced significant setbacks at the hands of the BJP. However, its electoral fortunes have dwindled, particularly in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. Despite maintaining power in Himachal Pradesh and making alliances in southern states like Karnataka, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, the party's stronghold in the north has weakened.
In Punjab, the AAP's dominance in the 2022 assembly polls and its decision to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections independently have dampened Congress's prospects. Similarly, in Haryana, the alliance between the BJP and the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) has posed challenges for the Congress's electoral ambitions.
However, Uttar Pradesh remains a crucial battleground for the Congress, where it seeks to reverse its declining electoral fortunes. With just one seat won in the previous general elections and limited success in the 2022 assembly polls, the party aims to capitalize on the dissatisfaction among farmers and other segments of the electorate to improve its performance.
(Inputs from agencies)