Updated: January 30, 2021 8:03:40 am
The move by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to get the farm protest site at Ghazipur vacated has the potential to revitalise the agitation against the Centre’s new agriculture laws after the violence at Red Fort during Republic Day appeared to have dented its credibility, according to the ruling party’s senior leaders in western UP and Haryana.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the leaders, including several MPs, said that Thursday’s order from the Ghaziabad administration and the heavy police deployment to evict the protesters led by BKU leader Rakesh Tikait have inflamed the sentiments of farmers, especially those from the Jat community which carries significant political weight in western UP, Haryana and parts of Rajasthan.
The massive crowd at the mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar Friday reflected this mood. According to police estimates, there were over 10,000 participants — many BJP leaders acknowledged that it was bigger than the one called over the communal riots in 2013 — with the GIC ground packed with tractors, jeeps and farmers.
There was heavy police deployment outside the ground and on the streets, as Opposition leaders from the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party joined the mahapanchayat and pledged to join the farm protest. The consensus was that farmers should be prepared to march in small groups to Delhi when needed.
Referring to the renewed mobilisation following the emotional appeal by Tikait against the police move Thursday, a BJP leader from western UP said: “The visuals of Tikait crying have stirred the community… for them it’s like ‘our son is weeping, let us go and support him’. This has prompted many from villages to march towards the protest site.”
Some of the party’s MPs from this region blamed the UP government for “mishandling” the situation. The Ghaziabad move can “revive the agitation in many parts of Haryana and potentially turn western UP into another protest hub,” said a BJP MP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other party leaders said visuals of protesters entering Red Fort and breaking barricades had given the Central government room to negotiate on its terms but the UP government’s police action “seems to have put the party in a precarious situation”.
In Haryana, meanwhile, several Jat leaders across the party lines have come out in support of Tikait and started marching towards Ghazipur, and the other border protest sites Singhu and Tikri.
Besides, several BJP leaders said, the resignation of INLD MLA Abhay Chautala in support of the farmers could put more political pressure on his nephew Dushyant Chautala, who heads the JPP which is a key ruling ally of the BJP. The BJP has 40 out of 90 seats, with Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala and his 10 MLAs holding the key to power.
Referring to the violence on Republic Day and UP’s move, a party leader said: “What do we tell people in our constituencies? In many urban areas, people have got the counter narrative also… that the violence was the handiwork of the Government to break farmers’ unity and defame the movement. People in villages ask why did the police have to take action while the farmers were protesting peacefully at the borders?”
Said a party MP from Haryana: “In fact, the police action has given a reason for protesters to revive the agitation in Haryana where things had come under control. It had so far remained a Punjab agitation, but that is no longer so.”
Tikait’s appeal was of particular significance because of the family’s political legacy in UP’s sugar belt. Rakesh Tikait is the son of the late Mahendra Singh Tikait who had spearheaded farmers’ mobilisation in the northern states since the 1980s. The family wields considerable influence in western UP and heads the Baliyan Khap of 84 villages in the region.
Over the recent years, the BJP had managed to make inroads into the rural pockets of this region mainly due to the waning popularity of Ajit Singh-led RLD, and intensifying polarisation between the Jat and the Muslim communities. RLD leader and Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Choudhary visited the protest site.
The anger against Thursday’s police deployment and Tikait’s emotional outburst — he alleged that the government will “destroy farmers and BJP’s goons will attack the farmers with the police” — also comes on the back of simmering anger over the delay in payment of sugarcane dues.
In Haryana, Dushyant Chautala has so far managed to withstand pressure from within his party to take an aggressive stand against the BJP on the farmers’ agitation. However, party sources described Abhay Chautala’s resignation as a move to reclaim the legacy of family patriarch, the late Devi Lal. “Dushyant is already worried over the stance of some of his MLAs who want him to back the farm protests. If this situation worsens, it will lead to serious trouble for the BJP,” sources said.
To add to the BJP’s worries, Hanuman Beniwal, a Jat leader who commands considerable influence within the community in Rajasthan, was at the forefront in Parliament Friday to raise slogans against the Government. Beniwal’s RLP has quit the NDA over the farm bills.
(With Jignasa Sinha)
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