The ongoing farmers’ protest, more specifically the Narendra Modi government's tussle with Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, has the potential of unleashing a potential churn in the politics of western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
After Tikait's 'outburst' on 28 January prevented a crackdown against the Ghazipur protest site on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, there has been massive mobilisation of farmers in western Uttar Pradesh.
‘Mahapanchayats’ have been held in Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Mathura and Baghpat in UP besides Palwal and Kurukshetra in Haryana.
There are three elements to this:
- BJP’s contradictory policy towards Jats
- The political upheaval in Haryana
- Churn in western Uttar Pradesh
Contradictions in BJP’s Jat Policy Begin to Unravel
After the violence on 26 January and the hoisting of the ‘Nishan Sahib’ at the Red Fort, pro-government news channels began actively creating a fear of a radical Sikh takeover of the protests, which could potentially have created a divide between Hindu and Sikh protesters. Then, the police too began cracking down on protest sites.
However, fearing that this would lead to an end of the protests, the Hindu Jats took a more active role. This is exemplified not just by Tikait's emotional appeal but also INLD leader Abhay Chautala's resignation from the Haryana Assembly.
For the last eight years, the BJP had been employing a curious policy towards Jats – mobilising Jats against Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh and consolidating all non-Jat Hindu communities against Jats in neighbouring Haryana.
The contradictions in the BJP's strategy towards Jats began to unravel.
This was most evident in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which, according to the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, 77 percent Jats voted for BJP in UP but only 19 percent in Haryana.
Despite a weak showing among Jats, a split in the community's vote between Congress and INLD, and consolidation of the rest behind BJP, helped it come to power in the state for the first time in 2014.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 77 percent Jats voted for BJP in UP but only 19 percent in Haryana.
In 2019, the post-Balakot wave helped BJP gain ground among Jats. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, it got a massive 91 percent of the community's vote in western UP and even in Haryana, Jat support for BJP increased from 19 percent to 50 percent.
However, once the nationalism card was gone, this policy began to backfire.
Upheaval in Haryana
The first signs of this unravelling was in the 2019 Haryana Assembly elections.
The Jat community punished the BJP for depriving them of political dominance and they tactically voted for the Congress in the Rohtak-Sonepat-Jhajjar belt and for the Jannanayak Janata Party (JJP) in northern districts like Hisar and Jind.
Even though the JJP joined hands with the BJP to form the government and Dushyant Chautala became deputy chief minister, it didn’t help the BJP win any goodwill among Jats.
The farm laws were the last straw and the Jats rose up in protest against the Centre. The farmers of Punjab and Haryana overcame the rivalry between the two states and stood together in the protests.
By letting loose water cannons and tear gas on protesters, the Manohar Lal Khattar government made matters more difficult for itself and for its ally JJP.
JJP’s Chautala now faces social boycott and Jat protesters didn’t even let his helicopter land in his own constituency.
The BJP and JJP also had to face defeats in the civic body polls and bypoll to the Baroda Assembly seat.
Now, a few Independent MLAs and leaders from both JJP and BJP have quit and joined the protesters. Abhay Chautala quitting as MLA from Ellenabad is a way of winning back the Jat vote the INLD lost to the breakaway JJP and also to compel the latter's MLAs to quit.
Congress leaders like Deepender Hooda have also made matters worse for BJP and JJP by actively taking part in the protests.
The JJP faces the prospect of more desertions and if it loses more MLAs, the government's majority could be in danger.
Churn in Western UP
The churn in western Uttar Pradesh is more complex, mainly due to the BJP's entrenchment within the Jat community. The turning of the Jat community into BJP supporters is said to be a masterstroke of Amit Shah, during his tenure as the party's Uttar Pradesh in-charge.
But the party, which won 77 percent Jat votes in western UP in 2014 and 91 percent in 2019, according to CSDS estimates, is now facing a major challenge within its strongest vote bank.
The Mahapanchayats held in Muzaffarnagar, Mathura, Baghpat and Bijnor gathered huge crowds running into tens of thousands, if not lakhs.
Rakesh Tikait and Naresh Tikait, who had allowed BJP to make inroads among Jats, are now asserting themselves. And the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which the BJP considered irrelevant, has revived and is actively taking part in the protests.
RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary said at the Mathura Mahapanchayat that “farmers shouldn’t fall into the trap of communalism again. This will only harm them.”
Chaudhary is trying to bring back agrarian-based Jat politics in western UP, that had suffered due to communal polarisation after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence.
Significantly, the protest leaders are stressing on a broad farmers’ solidarity by inviting community leaders from non-Jats – such as Sainis, Gujjars and Muslims – to some of the Mahapanchayats.
In Muzaffarnagar, Ghulam Mohammad Jaula, veteran BKU leader and a friend of the legendary Mahendra Singh Tikait, also addressed the Mahapanchayat. During his speech, he stressed on unity but also put forth the Muslim community’s grievances.
He is reported to have said, "You (Jats) made two mistakes – attacking Muslims (during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence) and defeating Chaudhary Ajit Singh (in 2014 and 2019)."
Muslims, many of whom are themselves farmers, are still circumspect about whether this would lead to a de-communalisation of western Uttar Pradesh but they are backing the farmers' agitation nonetheless.
Of course, it is not as if the farmers' upsurge is a sudden development. It had been brewing for some time in western Uttar Pradesh. One of the first sets of farmers outside of Punjab and Haryana to join the agitation against the farm laws were sugarcane farmers from western Uttar Pradesh, even though they are not dependent on Minimum Support Prices (MSP).
Sugarcane farmers have been complaining for some time that they haven’t been paid their arrears and they have carried out a number of protests against the Uttar Pradesh government, raising their concerns.
Then there's the resentment against the promotion of Thakurs by the Yogi Adityanath-led government at the expense of other communities.
Now, it remains to be seen how the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government respond to this challenge. They may have made a mistake by trying to crackdown on the Ghazipur protest site and arrest Tikait. Any more attempts at cracking down on protest site, like the UP police did in Baghpat, may backfire.
Can the agrarian mobilisation dilute a nearly decade-long entrenchment of BJP and Hindutva-isation of Jats? Or will the BJP manage to weather this crisis?