Influential farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, who is spearheading the protest against the contentious farm laws, is in West Bengal, where a fierce election campaign battle between the BJP and Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is underway.
On Saturday, March 13, 2021, Tikait was addressing the Mahapanchayat attended by a few hundred people at Nandigram, which goes to the polls on April 1. While mounting an attack on the BJP-led central government Tikait urged people in the Mahapanchayat, not to vote for the BJP. “There are elections ahead in Bengal. You need not come to Delhi. You ensure that the BJP is defeated in the polls. Don’t vote for them. Vote for only that party which can defeat the BJP,” he said.
Political observers feel that the move goes against the promise of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a collective of farm unions, to keep the movement “strictly apolitical”.
However, it is appearing that after talks stuck between the central government and farmers’ unions in the wake of Jan. 26 violence, and the Centre hardening its stand of non-repeal of legislations, farmers’ leaders have changed their strategy. They have decided to go to the four poll-bound states, including West Bengal, and the Union Territory of Puducherry, which, too, will witness assembly elections.
In a far cry from being an apolitical body, the SKM last month gave a nationwide call to “teach the BJP a lesson”. “We continue to be equidistant so far as support to any particular party is concerned. But we are against the government and it will be ridiculous to claim that we are not against the party that rules it,” said Avik Saha, national secretary of the SKM.
Leaders say that they would appeal to voters to not vote for the BJP and thus ensure its defeat; this, they claim, is the only way to pressurise the Centre to revoke the three ‘reforms.’
Political experts suggest it could be the fiercest of the constituency battles, with chief minister Mamata Banerjee taking on her protege-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari, who has been pitted against her by the rival BJP.
“This movement (farmers’ agitation) has to be spread throughout the country across all districts. You will have to break barriers and barricades. This movement will continue till the time the Kala-kanoon (contentious farm laws) is withdrawn,” Tikait said while projecting Nandigram as a citadel of the farmers’ movement.
Analysts say that there has seldom been voting on purely farmers’ economic issues, and farmers rather tend to vote along caste and religious lines. Analysts say the farmers’ campaign against the BJP may not influence the elections in a big way but it matters. “No state is going to the polls on the issue of farm laws. But the farmers’ agitation comes as an opportunity for the opposition,” says Barun Mitra, a teacher at the Calcutta University.
However, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s call for a campaign against the BJP has opened a new front of a challenge for the ruling party, which is looking to unseat Banerjee in West Bengal.
In Nandigram, a “mahapanchayat” spearheaded by Tikait on Sunday is expected to draw large crowds and is being supported by six constituent organisations of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the Left’s All-India Kisan Mahasabha, and a clutch of civil society organisations.
“We have been compelled to campaign against the BJP because the government has rejected all our demands and that is the only language it understands,” Saha said.
The Left parties were also excited when the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, protesting against the three agricultural laws of the Center on the Delhi border, announced that it would campaign against the BJP in West Bengal. Actually, Hannan Mollah, general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha and an important member of United Kisan Morcha, is also a member of the CPM Police Bureau. However, now that the farmers’ movement has reached Kolkata, the farmer’s leaders who reach here are Balbir Singh Rajewal, Rakesh Tikait, Yogendra Yadav, Medha Patkar but the CPM has started distancing itself from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha.
In fact, Singur and Nandigram have been chosen for the mahapanchayats of the United Kisan Morcha against the BJP and the Left is considering these places as a red signal for itself as these are the places where TMC leader Mamata Banerjee’s agitation led to the West Bengal The overthrow of the left government which was in power for 34 years was overthrown.
The Left is also unhappy that the Samyukt Kisan Morcha is not moving ahead with the ‘no vote for BJP’ slogan in its mahapanchayat. This left the Left suspecting that SKM is not only campaigning against the BJP but is also going in support of the TMC.
A senior CPM leader claimed that some leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha are in constant touch with the TMC. He chose Nandigram and Singur for mahapanchayats. Therefore it is impossible to support it.
On Saturday also, the United Kisan Morcha appealed to the people not to vote for the BJP in the assembly elections, but the Kisan Morcha leaders did not say to whom the people should vote.
What’s more, the SKM leaders are not going beyond their slogan of ‘No vote to BJP’, and the Left is not exactly happy. It suspects that the SKM is here to campaign not just against the BJP, but also in support of the TMC.
The Farmers’ Organization of the CPM has also said that it will not be a part of the programs of the United Kisan Morcha. Darsial, the Krishak Sabha says that he is now busy with his election campaign. Therefore, it is now difficult to join the programs of the United Kisan Morcha.
Hannan Mollah told The Sunday Express: “SKM came here to campaign against the BJP. Here, 23 organisations are supporting us. Many of them were present at the Ramlila Maidan yesterday (for a public meeting). And today and tomorrow’s programmes have been organised by the ‘Gurudwara Committee’ of West Bengal. We do not know how and on what basis have they organised these programmes.”
The Krishak Sabha, the farmer wing of the CPM, made it clear that it would not be there for the SKM programmes. Its state leader Amal Halder said: “We are now very busy with our election campaign. Our party has already announced the names of candidates and their campaigns have started. So, it is very difficult to be present at the SKM programme. We heard they are campaigning against the BJP. We have no problem with that.”