India’s BJP faces ire of farmers in final phase of elections

The ruling Modi government has failed to implement key agreements made with the farmers’ movement and is now facing protest after protest by farmers’ organizations on the campaign trail

May 22, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Farmers with AIKS protest the BJP government's policies. Photo: AIKS

Only two phases remain in India’s seven-phase national elections. The voting for the next two phases are scheduled on May 25 and June 1. The ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a united challenge from the center-left alliance led by the Congress Party across the country. The BJP’s battles in these last two phases of the elections are proving to be even more fierce due to the organized popular resentment against its farm policies in the region.

Significant parts of the states polling in these two final phases, the state of Haryana with 10 seats in the Lok Sabha and Punjab with 13 seats, have been the epicenter of the ongoing farmers’ agitation. Facing the brunt of the pro-corporate, neoliberal economic policies, farmers in the region have been demanding a legal Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their farm produce since 2020 under the banner of the Samyukta Kishan Morch (SKM).

Farmers from across this region took to the streets opposing three farm laws adopted by the BJP-led central government. They termed those laws anti-farmer and pro-corporate and demanded they be withdrawn. They had also demanded a MSP for their produce.

After their months-long agitation at Delhi’s borders, the government was forced to withdraw the controversial laws. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also agreed to institute a law to provide MSP, his government has failed to implement it so far.

The BJP government’s brutal repression of the farmers’ protest has also become a major campaign issue. Hundreds of farmers died during the year-long agitation against the farm laws between 2020-2021. The BJP government also initiated criminal proceedings against several farm leaders. Some of the leaders of the movements were even termed as separatists and vilified by the leaders of the ruling party.

In February this year, when a part of the farmers organizations called the Samyukta Kishan Morch (SKM) decided to relaunch the mobilizations, the BJP government used force to prevent them from reaching Delhi. During this police repression, at least one young farmer was killed and hundreds of others were wounded. Despite the attacks, hundreds of the farmers are still sitting at some of the borders of Delhi demanding the legal MSP.

Farmers say: No vote for BJP!

The farmers have been protesting against what they term as betrayal and have demanded accountability from the candidates representing the ruling party. During campaign events of the BJP and its allies, farmers groups have launched protests and disruptions, launching questions about the fate of the MSP law and criticizing their role in the repeated oppression unleashed by the state on the protesting farmers.

The Left-wing All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has been organizing rallies and meetings in all constituencies, opposing the BJP-supported candidates with thousands of people in attendance.

Left parties have decided to not contest any seats in Haryana to avoid the division of votes against BJP and have extended support to the anti-BJP forces. Other farmers groups have been organizing similar meetings across Punjab and Haryana in support of their demands and explicitly asking the voters to vote against the BJP.

Some of these organized farmers have even been preventing the BJP-backed candidates from canvassing in rural areas in Punjab and Haryana. In Haryana, they have claimed that the BJP governments in the state and at the center have failed to take cognizance of farmers’ plight in all these years and they do not deserve their votes. In Punjab, farmers have declared that Modi’s policies are pro-corporate and have organized protests against meetings addressed by him in the coming days, including, greeting him with black flags.

Journalist Mandeep Punia gives credit to these farmers for defeating BJP’s attempts to win elections by polarizing voters on religious lines as it tried to do during the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in January. Punia claims that such agitations kept the secular issues alive which ultimately bothers BJP.

Read more: PM Modi consecrates controversial Ram temple in Ayodhya, declares “new era” for India

BJP won all 10 seats in the state of Haryana in the last national elections in 2019. Though it has limited electoral presence in Punjab until now, it was hoping to increase its tally of two seats which looks difficult in the context of farmers’ agitation. The farmers’ protests may also impact on the four seats in Himachal Pradesh as well. In 2019 BJP had won all four seats.