Calls for a fresh approach to farm stir gaining traction in BJP

Farmers rest inside their makeshift tents at Delhi-UP Ghazipur border, during their protest against new farm law, in Ghaziabad, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (PTI Photo/Vijay Verma)

As Uttar Pradesh and Punjab get into poll-mode, the contentious agri laws have triggered a serious debate within the BJP.

The union government’s refusal to scrap the laws and its tough stance in dealing with farmers’ protests are being questioned by some voices in the ruling party.

Even though the farm agitation is not grabbing the spotlight it got six months ago, the upcoming polls have again dragged it to the core of BJP’s intra-party debates.

The party and government insist the new laws are beneficial to farmers and would help boost agricultural incomes. 

Since January, the government and protestors have not held any talks due to the rigid stand taken by both. 

Despite the tough stance advocated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, three leaders have come out in favour of an early settlement to the issue. 

More importantly, many leaders from Uttar Pradesh, including Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, have been nuanced in their statements.

Those who have opened up their minds are Rajya Sabha MP Subramanyam Swamy, who has been sharply critical of Modi, Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik, who is a jag farmer from western Uttar Pradesh, and Varun Gandhi, MP.

Varun has condemned a Haryana IAS officer's command to police to break the heads of agitating farmers in Karnal. On Sunday, he noted lakhs of farmers had gathered in western Uttar Pradesh and said: "we need to start re-engaging them as they are our flesh and blood”. 

He shared a video of the farmers’ mahapanchayat in Muzaffar Nagar. 

His tweet was noticed as the recent union cabinet decision to increase sugar cane price by five rupees per quintal did not enthuse farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s sugar belt. 

Varun had maintained a stoic silence since 2019 when his mother Maneka Gandhi was dropped from the cabinet.

The youngest general secretary of BJP when Rajnath Singh was the party chief, Varun had not been considered for any post in the party or government recently. 

His call to hold talks with farmers and understand their pain may not yield an official response as the government has maintained the farmers were not responding to calls for talks. 

Hawks in the party argue the farmers’ unions are agents of the opposition and should be countered with a strong dose of nationalism and Hindutva, which have helped BJP in Lok Sabha and assembly elections since 2014. 

The hardliners have also been buoyed by a television channel survey, which predicts a pro-incumbency vote for chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

In Punjab, however, the same survey predicts a rout for the BJP as it may find it difficult to open its account, due to the break up of long-term alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal over the farmers' agitation. 

The state unit, which was strong in urban areas, is not even able to exploit the infighting within the Congress between chief minister Amarinder Singh and PCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu. 

Instead, it seems the Aam Aadmi Party is gaining ground in urban areas, while it is a triangular fight between the Congress, AAP, and Akali Dal in rural areas. 

Both Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are known for meticulous planning of election strategy, including steps to woo critical vote banks. 

It remains to be seen if they would change the government’s approach to the farmers’ agitation to accommodate the divergent views within the party on the issue.

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