After naming him as its nominee for Lok Sabha polls from Gurdaspur, the BJP went out of its way to project Sunny Deol as a farmer’s son, and not as an actor’s son, or as an actor. Deol’s star power combined with the BJP strategy paid off and the actor snagged the seat from state Congress president Sunil Jakhar.
A year-and-a-half down the line, as BJP works its machinery to get farmers in Punjab, protesting against the three recently enacted farm laws, to the talks table, questions are being raised as to why the saffron party has failed to take advantage of its star MP.
Neither has the MP been made a member of the core committee of the party nor has he reportedly been asked to come to Punjab to put forward the BJP’s point of view before the farmers, a large number of whom are his constituents in Gurdaspur.
Deol has also not been part of the BJPs ongoing deliberations at the Centre or part of the meetings held on the way forward to tackle the protests on the agri laws as he was not invited. BJP has two MPs in Lok Sabha from Punjab and one in Rajya Sabha.
The other Lok Sabha MP, Som Parkash, who represent Hoshiarpur and is also a Union minister of state, has been regularly involved by the BJP state unit in reaching out to farmers. The Rajya Sabha member, Shvait Malik, too has been in action, but Deol’s has remained conspicuous by his absence.
The Gurdaspur MP has till date only made three tweets on the issue of the agriculture laws. The first two of these were when the agri bills were passed in the Parliament in September. He had, at the time, welcomed the development saying that the farmers will continue to have their full rights over their produce and that they could sell their produce at the place of their choice at better rates.
A couple of days later, on September 20, Deol had again responded to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet in Punjabi in which he had assured that the MSP will continue to be provided to the farmers. Deol had tweeted, “Gumrah na howo, apne labh nu samjho (Do not be misled, understand your benefits)”.
BJP insiders say that the MP is more than keen to be included in reaching out to the farmers but that he has not been asked to do so by the party leadership in Punjab. He has been actively involved in the development works in his constituency and has been awaiting a nod from the party to reach out to farmers.
“Given the fact that Deol’s father and veteran actor Dharmendra has a strong connect with farmers, and he comes from a Punjabi rural family and still maintains a farm in Maharashtra, the Gurdaspur MP could also have had a strong connect with the farming community. It is not understandable why the MP from Punjab has not been used in the ongoing imbroglio over the agriculture laws,” said a BJP leader who did not want to be named.
In fact, seeking support for his son during the Lok Sabha polls, Dharmendra, had told reporters that “we have not come here to hold debates, but hear out people’s pain”.
Earlier, on the day he told farmers “not to be misled”, they announced a ‘social boycott’ of Deol. Farmers had then accused Deol of betraying the Punjabi community “despite being a farmer’s son”. Harinder Singh Lakhowal, the general secretary of BKU (Lakhowal), one of the farm bodies protesting against the central laws had said that there was “hardly any wave in support of BJP” in Punjab, “but still people voted” for Deol. “However, he seems to have forgotten his voters and has started singing the BJP tune. He is a Punjabi and his family has a farming background. Still, he failed to understand the pain of farmers,” Lakhowal had said.
Another farm outfit leader had said that the actor came to Punjab “seeking votes as a Punjabi, as a farmer’s son and Punjabis gave him an overwhelming response”. “But what has he done for us? He speaks the language of RSS and BJP and is not bothered about lakhs of small and marginal farmers,” Satman Pannu, president of Kisan Mazdoor Sangrash Committee, had said.
When contacted state president Ashwani Sharma said that there was no issue of infighting within the party and that Deol had been visiting Gurdaspur at regular intervals. “He has been holding meetings with the district administration over development projects. He has taken up the case of some big ticket projects for the constituency which should fructify soon. It is because of the Covid pandemic that the visits have been curtailed to some extent,” he said.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that following his recent outburst, former state minister and chairman of the BJP committee negotiating with farmers’ unions, Surjit Kumar Jyani, had also been sidelined in a meeting that the state BJP leadership had with party national president JP Nadda on farmers’ issue.
Not only were Jyani and his committee members, including former national secretary Harjeet Singh Grewal, not invited to that meeting, their subsequent suggestions were also not taken into account leading to a public outburst by Jyani against his own party.
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