From the farm to the poll booth, the BJP has lost farmer trust

Rajasthan, UP, Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra, simmer with farmers’ anger as polling dates for other states in the northern belt come closer.

In April 2024, a crowd of men and women surrounded   Hans Raj Hans as he came to attend a BJP meeting in the small town of Araianwala in Punjab. The BJP candidate competing in upcoming elections from Faridkot, according to Times of India, claims he felt targeted by the presence of the protestors.  The protests, as per reports, say they were there to demand answers from the government.

This is not an isolated incident. Farmers have been expressing their dissatisfaction through demonstration, public meetings, and gheraos with the current government across states as polling dates arrive. Several organisations related to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) have organised protests and expressions of resentment against BJP candidates during the campaign in Punjab. Haryana and Rajasthan have seen similar receptions.

“The poll outcome will this time show the impact of the farmers’ protest and the extent of disenchantment,” general secretary of the BKU told Sabrangindia. “So far there was cynicism in this regard, wait for the 2024 results,” he added.

Could this impact the BJP in the coming polls? Let’s have a look.

Ten farmers died in the ‘Delhi Chalo’ farmer’s protests of 2024. According to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, over 700 farmers died in the 2020-2021 farmers protests against farm laws. Besides, in official data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), one farmer or agricultural labourer dies by suicide every hour in India, with the deaths of labourers being higher than the cultivating farmers. All this points to the picture that clearly, all is not not well.

India is an agrarian state. According to data from the Press Information Bureau (PIB), rural areas in India accommodate a substantial 65% of the population, with 47% relying on agriculture for their livelihoods. Furthermore, a recent survey by the International Labour Organisation has revealed that over the past few years more people have been pushed into becoming agriculture labourers, indicating that there has been a reverse flow.

Understanding this, history has shown us that the government has been instrumental in shaping agriculture because India’s agricultural growth was propelled by public sector investments, particularly during the Green Revolution era, which significantly boosted production and productivity through state-led interventions in technology, pricing, credit, and marketing. However, since the 1990s, there has been a noticeable retreat of the State from these crucial areas as per research conducted by Foundation for Agrarian Studies. The study indicates that there has been a sharp decline in public expenditure on agriculture over the past two decades (2010-11 to 2019-20). According to FAS, economics Professor Ramakumar Rao has stated that India’s overall public spending in this sector has now become alarmingly low even when compared to developing nations and not just developed nations. Due to this he says there is an urgent need for increased investment to support agricultural sustainability and rural well-being.

Farmers’ discontent with the ruling government may not have made the news an electoral factor but if we look at the past trends and patterns we can see that it has emerged as a critical factor shaping the political landscape ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.  This discontent has resonated deeply in rural areas, where agriculture forms the backbone of livelihoods and communities. This has heightened the chance of potentially reshaping voter sentiment and posing a substantial challenge to the electoral prospects of the BJP.

As elections approach, we know that farmers in India have resumed protests along the borders of Punjab and Haryana since February 2024. They returned to protests with their old demand for a law guaranteeing Minimum Support Price (MSP). Essentially Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) are the prices set by the central government for buying food grains from farmers. These prices are established to ensure that farmers receive fair compensation for their produce. So even though the demand for a law on MSP was promised by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government during the Farmers’ Protest of 2020-2021, which led farmers to close down their year-long demonstrations. However, the promised legislation never materialised which led to the second round of protests two years later this year. Will this affect polling results? Many say yes.

Phases 1 and 2 of polling have already been concluded for India’s 18th Lok Sabha elections.  Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, amongst other states, have already begun with two rounds of polling. Haryana and Punjab will however both see voting on a a single round (the 6th and 7th rounds) of polling on May 25 and June 1 respectively.

First, let’s take a look at whether there was any impact on BJP votes after the 2020-2021 farmers protests which ended in December, 2021, before crucial state assembly elections were to take place in 2022. In 2022, Punjab saw BJP winning only 2 seats in total. The Aam Aadmi Party won about 92 seats and made Bhagwant Mann the chief minister. The people had declared their mandate.

However, according to an analysis in Mint, farmer disaffection did not reflect in reduced state assembly seats for the BJP all over Uttar Pradesh in 2022. The UP assembly elections saw districts, with a considerable population of Jats, elect BJP, leading the party to win four of the six seats in Muzaffarnagar.  However in the same state elections, the BJP had, in 2022, suffered a grand defeat by losing 13 of the 19 assembly seats in the four districts  of UP, including Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Shamli and Baghpat. As analysed by Yogendra Yadav, it is on these seats that the farmers protests (from the Ghazipur morcha in the 2020-2021 farmers protests) made maximum impact.

Over the past two years now, consistent news reports have since reported the community’s dissatisfaction with the ruling party. Farmers issues, the attack on the constitution and the Modi government’s callous non-response to women wrestlers, a leader at a meeting in Ghaziabad called for support to the INDIA alliance just a few days ago.

Rajasthan is also seeing such similar anti-BJP sentiment within the Jat community. The Modi wave, according to this Indian Express article, has wavered in the Shekhawati region of the state where Jats are large in number, and instead local issues have taken precedence. The community is said to reportedly have an impact over four seats in this region.  Similarly, Ganganager in the state has also been witnessing the anger of the community. The result was evident in the 2023 assembly elections in the state, where the BJP performed quite poorly in Ganganagar which had seen thousands gathered for protests against the government for farmers’ issues.

Yashpal Malik, president of the Akhil Bhartiya Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, spoke to The Print, saying this anger was across states and not just in Rajasthan, but also in Jat-concentrated areas of Punjab, Haryana, and UP, “The biggest reason for this is the way that party’s treatment of farmers during their protests (both in 2020-21 and earlier this year). The BJP had promised to implement the Swaminathan Commission report (in their manifesto) but when farmers launched an agitation to demand this, the BJP used brutal measures to suppress them.” In the 2019 elections, the Jat community had supported the BJP only with a small margin over its support for the Congress, which was where 39% of the community’s votes went, as opposed to the BJP who received 42% of the votes.

The agricultural crisis thus has created a substantial crisis for the BJP. In Maharashtra, according to The Hindu, Buldhana, Akola, Amravati, Wardha, Yavatmal-Washim, Hingoli, Nanded, and Parbhani in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions have been facing extreme conditions of drought and unseasonal rains leading to a severe agrarian crisis. According to the newspaper, early reports from phases 1 and 2 of the polling have pointed toward the possibility that the BJP may face a tough battle in these regions, even though it had listed its big leaders, such as Devendra Fadnavis to campaign and reassure farmers in the region.

Discontent continues to persist in parts of India. It remains yet to be seen how much of it will translate into a resounding defeat for the BJP.



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