The three agricultural laws were finally withdrawn. This was announced by the Prime Minister himself in his address to the nation on Friday on the occasion of the Gurpurab. But instead of welcoming the initiative, the farmers are still on the warpath. You categorically made six further demands and had a mammoth Kisan Mahapanchayat in Lucknow. It was expected that the farmers would return to their homeland satisfied and victorious with the announcement. Instead, a new debate has started – did the Prime Minister make a mistake in admitting his demands?
Perhaps a bigger debate is whether the announcement changed things on the ground. Will it help the BJP neutralize farmers’ anger, especially in UP? Or will it help other parties who can claim Modi admitted a big mistake? Will Ex-Congress Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in Punjab benefit from his early stance in favor of the peasant movement, or will it be Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party or AAP that will make better use of this? Remember Kejriwal visited the protesting farmers and told them that his government would provide any kind of assistance.
In this context, Kejriwal’s trip to Punjab can be seen just three days after Modi’s announcement. But instead of making big on the repeal of the farm laws, he tried to spark the imagination of the women of the state, as Nitish Kumar did in Bihar, and similar to what Priyanka Gandhi tries in UP. He announced what he called the world’s largest “women’s allowance” system: every woman over the age of 18 in every household receives a thousand rupees every month, which are paid directly into her account when his party forms government in Punjab. If his announcement is an indicator, it is safe to say that he is skeptical of his support for farmers who guarantee him enough votes to win Punjab.
Kejriwal’s strategy could be based on the fact that all political parties except the BJP support the agitation of the farmers, so that not only AAP may benefit from the repeal of the agricultural laws. Not only did Amarinder Singh support the movement, but he also met Interior Minister Amit Shah to persuade him that the farmers’ demands should be met, as the unrest was also important from a national security perspective. Amarinder Singh has left Congress, but the party’s top leadership, including Rahul Gandhi, has always had sympathy for the peasant cause. The new Prime Minister Charanjit Singh Channi even demanded a memorial for the farmers who died during the agitation. He had also promised to pay compensation to the close relatives of the deceased farmers. The resignation of Amarinder Singh will therefore not affect the voting behavior of the agitating farmers vis-à-vis Congress. Akali Dal, which originally supported the farm laws, resigned from the Modi government in September 2020 and ended its alliance with the BJP. But the party will not benefit from the breakup, despite being very adeptly linked to Mayawati’s BSP, which has a good presence among Dalit voters.
With Amarinder Singh forming his own party, the vote in Congress is likely to be divided. Congress also has to deal with the revolt of Navjot Singh Sindhu, its president. So AAP could have taken a clear lead. But that doesn’t seem to be the case – at least not yet. AAP was predicted to easily win the 2017 Punjab election, but Congress took over the state. The AAP, as the main opposition party, should have spent the last five years expanding its visibility and building on its foundation, but AAP’s Punjab leaders spent the time fighting each other. Its great leaders in Punjab either left the party or were forced to leave. This ultimately led to AAP winning just one of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab in 2019. And he was decimated in the local elections19 months later.
It cannot be denied that after Delhi, AAP has built a huge footprint in Punjab. But the party, in my opinion, needs to overcome the aftermath of the following mistakes it has made:
1. No organization built
2. Did not create a leader from the Punjab unit
3. Didn’t apologize for the mistakes it made in 2017
4. No alternative blueprint presented for the development of the state
Some of AAP’s Punjab leaders were viewed as flirting with undesirable extremist elements of Punjab politics. And Kejriwal seems to be leaning towards traditional politics rather than the alternative model that makes his party so attractive. So the freebies. Kejriwal’s free electricity and water gimmicks worked in Delhi because they were wrapped in the moral principles of alternative politics. These gimmicks lose their edge when they are offered by traditional politics. This is what AAP is really struggling with in Punjab.
(Ashutosh is the author and editor of satyahindi.com.)
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