When three-time BJP MP, Feroze Varun Gandhi, grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, publicly expressed solidarity with the agitating farmers, it was not without a reason. In fact, every elected representative in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh and adjoining areas, realises the political consequences of the ongoing agitation.
In case of Varun Gandhi, there is widespread speculation that he is apparently unhappy with the treatment meted out to him by the BJP and was making moves that could bring him closer to the Congress. The young and dynamic Lok Sabha member, who currently represents Pilibhit, is not politically naïve that he would leave the BJP to join the Congress, which, at this stage, does not seem to have any future, at least in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due early next year.
Varun Gandhi has been associated with farmers and rural India ever since he joined active politics in 2009. Not many people know that he is probably the only MP, who has never drawn any salary. In fact, every month, his salary goes to the families of farmers, who have committed suicide. The Lok Sabha Secretariat gets an advisory from him to direct the money to the affected families, with whom he has been in touch for so many years.
In the latest instance, he decided to back the farmers while urging the government to enter into a dialogue with them to resolve the issues as early as possible. There are a large number of farmers in the Terahi region of Uttar Pradesh in general and in his constituency in particular. He is aware that without their support, it would be next to impossible to survive politically. Thus, his support for the farmers is also a kind of message for other MPs and MLAs.
According to available information, Varun Gandhi also had a meeting in the capital with some of the farmer leaders from his area. The photographs of this particular meeting went viral, which shows the young MP sitting on the floor while some of the senior farmer leaders are sitting on the sofas at the meeting venue.
The reality as it exists today is that there is social unrest in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The problem would become more complex if political unrest follows since it would have wide ranging ramifications for all the political parties, BJP included.
The BJP is facing the farmers’ wrath in Punjab and Haryana. In Punjab, which is also poll bound, there are reports that BJP activists have taken down the party flags from their houses as well as their vehicles, in order to save themselves from social boycott. In Haryana, leaders and ministers are finding it difficult to visit their constituencies and each time they plan, heavy police bandobast has to be made.
The kisan gathering in Muzaffarnagar a few days ago was mammoth but the epicentre of the agitation has shifted to Karnal, the constituency of Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, where an IAS officer had recently directed the police to break the heads of the farmers.
The peasants, who have been protesting peacefully are demanding the suspension of the IAS officer as also a registration of an FIR against him because one farmer lost his life following the police action. Senior functionaries of the Haryana government, while admitting that the IAS officer’s conduct was not consistent with the cadre he comes from or the position he holds, are reluctant to act against him. Therefore, the deadlock continues, even though the errant officer has been transferred out from the district.
In Punjab, where the farmers’ agitation has impacted daily life, the newly appointed state Congress chief, Navjot Singh Sidhu, held a meeting with the representatives of the kisans. Every party is conscious that unless they are able to garner the support of the farmers, winning the Assembly election would become a Herculean task.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has from the very beginning identified itself with the farmers’ cause and hopes to reap political dividends. The Shiromani Akali Dal, which has always been a party that had deep connect in rural Punjab, had initially lost popularity, though there are indications that they are trying to recover their lost ground. Political analysts believe that closer to the elections, a regional party supported by the farmers could come into being, which would challenge the existing political players.
Whether that happens or not is in the realm of speculation. The scenario for the BJP is, however, not too good. It is likely that the saffron party that had helped the Akalis come to power both in 2007 and 2012, may fail to win even a single seat.
Overall, the Centre must take stock of the unfolding situation. After the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, the Union government has to ensure that there is total tranquility in the border states, particularly Punjab. Politics can become counter-productive if it does not meet the overall objectives, which are very important for running the country.
Like Varun Gandhi has embraced pragmatic politics, the BJP’s central leadership must review its position. The farmers are our own people and they are as important in keeping our country secure. If the soldiers protect our borders, the farmers feed the people. It was not without a reason that former Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri had coined the slogan, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan conflict. It is time for reconciliation. Between us.