The BJP government is ruling at the Centre, and it is armed with a formidable IT cell, but the peasant movement in Punjab is still continuously spreading its wings. Large mahapanchayats are being held all over the state, which bear witness to the strength of this movement. Now, the farmer movement has also left a visible imprint on the recent urban body elections.
Not only was the BJP wiped out in these elections, the Punjabis also rejected its former ally, the Akali Dal. The intelligentsia of the state has a very positive and optimistic view of the impact of this movement. They believe it will change the political environment of Punjab and influence it culturally and socially.
It is true that the Congress party has gained a major edge in these Municipal Corporation, Municipal Council and Nagar Panchayat elections, but the farmers’ movement has had a deeper impact on its outcomes too. Though farmer organisations have steered clear of electoral politics, every section of Punjab now sees the new agricultural laws are dangerous for all classes. That is how the traders and urban working classes could stand in support of this movement of peasants.
The communal card of the BJP has completely failed in these elections. People have elected a large number of independent candidates, preferring to move away from the established political outfits. Political experts also view this development as favourable to the farmers’ movement. The highest number of independent candidates were elected from Budhlada, Boha, and Barreta tehsils in the Mansa district of Punjab.
All the independent candidates of Adampur Municipal Council in Jalandhar have won. Similarly, nine out of 15 wards of Kartarpur Municipal Council have elected independent candidates. On the 13 wards of Anandpur Sahib, all 13 independent candidates have won. Independent candidates have also won 12 of the 13 seats in Nurmahal.
On the nine council seats of the Patti tehsil of Tarn Taran district, the BJP candidates could get only 81 votes in all, less than NOTA, which got 164 votes. So, independent candidates have emerged as the biggest party in these election, and this is a clear reflection of the impact of the movement.
The election results show that 392 independent candidates have won in the Municipal Corporation, Municipal Council, and Nagar Panchayats, out of which 18 have won in Municipal Corporations, and 374 in Municipal Councils. District Jalandhar has the highest number of 59 Azad candidates and the number 53 independent candidates in district Mansa. Similarly, 39 in District Ropar, 130 in Sangrur, 31 in Barnala, 29 in Bathinda, 18 in Naya City, 20 in Mohali, and 15 in Fatehgarh Sahib have scored victories.
Journalist Hamir Singh says that although the Congress party has emerged as a big winner, this does not mean a stamp of approval for its performance in running the state. The truth is that the opponents of the Congress party were not powerful, he says. Yet another impact of the peasant movement is that it has made people angry with the BJP as well as the Akali Dal. For, earlier, the Akalis had supported the new agriculture laws too.
Prof. Ronki Ram, who teaches political science at Punjab University Chandigarh, says, “The movement against the agriculture laws has created such an atmosphere that [even] agricultural traders in urban areas have voted with their senses this time! City-based workers also realised that these laws are dangerous for them. Their vote has had an impact on these elections.”
In Pathankot, the native district of Punjab BJP president Ashwani Sharma, the party could secure only 11 out of 50 seats. In the Hoshiarpur district, senior BJP leader Tikshin Sood could only get four out of 50 municipal corporation seats to vote for his party’s candidates. In the Abohar Municipal Corporation, which falls in Fazilka, the district of former BJP minister Surjit Jyani, the BJP’s candidates could not even open their party’s account. (Sharma is also an MLA from Abohar.)
Scholar Pyara Lal Garg, an expert in the politics of Punjab, says, “The new agriculture laws will not only hit the rural areas but also the urban areas. Urban residents have become aware of this due to the farmer movement. They have proved that the communal agenda of the BJP has no place in Punjab.”
The Left parties have also done well in many places. All the candidates of the Communist Party of India have won the Nagar Panchayat elections in Joga in Mansa district. The BJP had to face the anger of the peasantry right from the beginning of the campaign. As a result, it could not even find candidates to contest these elections. In many places, people had written on the walls of their houses that no BJP candidate should come asking for their votes. Many BJP candidates contested as independent candidates so that they would not have to face public anger.
Of course, BJP’s IT cell is still propagating malicious propaganda against the peasant leaders. They are verbally attacking leaders and farmers, attempting to discredit them, and spreading false news about the movement. Despite all these antics, the mass base of peasant leaders and the influence of the peasants’ movement is constantly growing in the state. The mahapanchayats held in Chandigarh, Jagraon, and Barnala are proof of this.
The Kisan Mahapanchayat held in Chandigarh on 20 February was well-attended. It is estimated that more than one-and-a-half lakh people attended the Kisan Panchayat held in Barnala. The programs being organised by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha are being fully supported by the people of Punjab, from the Pagdi Sambhal Jatta held on 23 February, the “Anti-Oppression Day” held on 24 February, the “Youth Farmers’ Day” held on 26 February, or Guru Ravidas’ anniversary (and Chandrasekhar Azad’s death anniversary) which the Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Diwas marked on 27 February.
The peasant struggle in Punjab has changed the entire state, not just politically but culturally and socially. There is a surge of fraternal unity in the villages, and people are putting an end to petty quarrels. Baljinder Kaur, a student of Punjab University Chandigarh, says, “If Punjab looks in the mirror today, it would see a blissful version of itself. We saw women giving speeches and men cooking at the Kisan Morcha. These changes will not remain limited to the protest sites. People will go home with a new sense of equality. Culturally, this movement is giving a lot to the people of Punjab. People are talking about equality of women and men, and attempting to erase caste barriers. The old stereotypes are ending.”
Prof. Bawa Singh, a well-known sociologist, says, “It is difficult to predict the future of this movement, but it is clear that it has rejected traditional political parties. A new politics will set foot in Punjab in the coming days. Socially, philosophically, and culturally, too, this movement will have a deep impact. The Modi government has made many efforts to fight this movement and suppress the people—in the name of caste, communism, or Sikhism—but it has trumped all those strategies. This movement is making its own way.”
The author is a freelance journalist. The views are personal.