Chandigarh: Two weeks after ending their year-long protest against the farm laws, as many as 22 farmer groups on Saturday formed a joint political front to contest the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab. The political outfit has been named Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, taking after the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of farmers which had organized the protests.
Out of the 32 farmer groups who were part of SKM, 22 have joined hands to form the political front while three more have assured their support.
The party – Samyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) – may ally with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, although this has been denied for now.
“SKM (Samyukt Kisan Morcha) was an umbrella body of different groups… we won the agitation (against the farm laws). But, when we returned, there was pressure… if we could win that battle, we can win the election as well…” Harmeet Singh Kadian, the leader of the BKU (Kadian) faction, said.
“Following public demand we are presenting Samyukt Samaj Morcha,” he said.
“This is a morcha, or movement, not a party because again people from different ideologies have come together… Had we decided earlier to contest polls we would have declared a symbol,” he said.
BKU (Rajewal) leader BS Rajewal, who is expected to lead the SSM, said: “First we have to strengthen our party at the village level… Aam log (common people)… ” he said, as he played down talk of the a SSM-AAP deal; “No negotiation… this is only media speculation,” he said.
News of the farmers’ plunge into electoral politics came hours after the Samyukt Kisan Morcha categorically ruled out contesting any election at this time.
The SKM said it identified itself as a “platform of more than 400 different ideological organisations” and, in the light of lack of consensus amongst those organisations, it would not contest polls.
The 22 farmer unions’ decision to enter electoral politics has been questioned by the BKU (Ekta Ugraharan), which is one of the more influential farmer unions in Punjab.
“Reacting to the decision of some farmers’ organisations in Punjab to contest the elections, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) believes they should focus on the struggle to achieve demands of farmers instead of getting involved in votes and politics,” the group tweeted in Punjabi.
Punjab and UP are due to hold elections in February-March. Both have significant farmer populations, and their votes are being seen as key in deciding if the Congress (in power in Punjab) and the BJP (in power in UP) remain or go.
The farm laws – passed in September last year – triggered furious protests nationwide.
Last month, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi – in a stunning announcement just three months before the UP and Punjab elections – said the three laws would be withdrawn.
The government’s surprising U-turn – after senior figures, including the Prime Minister, spent months verbally attacking the protesting farmers – raised questions from critics who pointed to the polls.
As part of the protest, thousands of farmers from Punjab and UP (as well as Haryana and Rajasthan) had camped on the Delhi borders since November last year. The BJP – in power at the centre and in UP, and hoping to oust the Congress from Punjab – faced massive anger from voters in these states.
The rollback was, therefore, seen as politically key, particularly with a general election due in 2024, and triggered speculation from critics and the opposition that the BJP might try to resuscitate the farm laws after this round of elections – assuming, of course, it has the political capital to do so.