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Punjab Elections: Why the 'Farm Unions' Party' Has Its Task Cut Out

Balbir Singh Rajewal is facing allegations from SAD, Deep Sidhu and some of his Sanyukt Kisan Morcha colleagues.

Updated
Punjab Elections: Why the 'Farm Unions' Party' Has Its Task Cut Out
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Barely a few days after a section of the farm unions in Punjab announced the formation of the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, the newly formed outfit seems to have run into some rough weather.

The outfit, especially its leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, now finds himself at the receiving end of a number of allegations from different quarters.

ALLEGATIONS

Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu have both accused Rajewal of trying to "strike a deal" with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the farm laws.

They are citing a letter allegedly by Rajewal to Shah which, in effect, said that only Farmers' Produce and Trade Act had to be repealed.

The purported letter was made public by Doaba Kisan Committee leader Amarjit Singh Rarra.

Rajewal is yet to respond to the allegations.

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Then Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) leader Surjit Singh Phul accused the SSM of misusing funds meant for the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha IT Cell to promote their political outfit.

The SSM has denied this allegation.

The allegations are only one part of the problem.

OPPOSITION FROM OTHER UNIONS

The movement against the farm laws received overwhelming support across Punjab, even from people not directly associated with agriculture. But despite this support, it won't be easy for the SSM to turn this into political support.

The first problem is that several of the constituents of the SKM have decided not to join the SSM. This includes the most numerically strong union the BKU (Ugrahan) led by Joginder Singh Ugrahan.

Ugrahan went to the extent of saying that he would oppose both Rajewal and Gurnam Singh Charuni - two leaders who have taken the political plunge, though through different outfits .

Dr Darshan Pal, head of the Krantikari Kisan Union also spoke out against the newly formed SSM and called it a mistake.

BKU (Sidhupur) and BKU (Dakaunda) have also decided to stay away.

Most recently, the Kirti Kisan Union announced that it would also not support the SSM.

The worrying part for Rajewal and the SSM is that many of the other unions see this as a betrayal of the farmers' cause.

"SSM is nothing but the result of the political ambitions of Balbir Singh Rajewal and Harmeet Kadian. Due to their ambitions, they have caused a split in the farmers' movement," a senior farm union leader told The Quint.

"There's no guarantee that the government won't bring back the farm laws. In such a scenario, the last thing the farmers need is a split in the unions due to the political ambitions of a few," the leader further added.

TRICKY TRANSFORMATION INTO POLITICS

The other problem is organisational. With the biggest unions like Ugrahan not backing them, as it is the SSM may face a problem of organisational reach despite the presence of over 20 unions.

The second problem is the transformation from a union into a political formation geared towards electoral politics.

While urban areas are definitely a problem, even in villages the SSM could face the reality that the farmer who may have deep respect for the unions, could still vote on the basis of a variety of other factors.

The Election Commission could announce the election schedule in a couple of weeks. The SSM will have very little time to apply for an election symbol, set up units, identify candidates etc.

Many believe that these time and logistical constraints may eventually become a pretext to arrive at some sort of an arrangement with one of the major political parties in the state.

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AAP-RAJEWAL NEGOTIATIONS

Rajewal had supported AAP in the 2017 elections and he is said to have been in negotiations with the party this time as well.

The talks are said to have been going on since much before the repeal of the farm laws.

There was strong speculation among the farm unions that the AAP has offered the CM post to Rajewal and the deputy CM post to Harmeet Kadian. AAP, however, denied any such offer of the CM's chair.

AAP, being non-committal on the CM's chair as well as on giving a sizable number of tickets to nominees from the Unions, may have pushed Rajewal and his associates to form their own outfit.

Though Rajewal did say categorically that the SSM will contest all 117 seats and won't align with AAP, the doors for an alliance are still open.

AAP is yet to declare candidates for over 20 seats. It may be open to accommodating SSM nominees in some of them. It could also consider the deputy CM's position to one of the union leaders.

It is possible that AAP may announce its Punjab unit chief Bhagwant Mann as its CM candidate in the next few weeks. Mann and Rajewal are said to have a good equation that goes back several years.

While it may not compromise on the CM issue, AAP may not have much choice but to arrive at some kind of compromise with the SSM because it may stand to lose the most among the exisiting parties, if the SSM does put up candidates across the state.

In 2017, AAP did best in parts of rural Malwa where the agrarian woes were the most intense, especially among cotton farmers.

Rural Malwa may also be the target area for the SSM as well. And since both are targetting voters dissatisfied with both Congress and SAD, they could cut into each others' influence.

"In case the farm groups decide to go it alone in the poll fray, they may have maximum impact on AAP, which has been projecting itself as the only 'third alternative," senior journalist IP Singh writes in the Times of India.

But its not just AAP. SAD too is worried due to the presence of the SSM as its dependence on rural votes is higher than that of the Congress, which gets a sizable chunk of its support from cities.

This may explain why Sukhbir Badal is gunning for Rajewal.

The next couple of weeks may be crucial for SSM.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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