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View: Lakhimpur Kheri violence, farmers agitation in UP and political parties

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It took the ghastly incident at Lakhimpur Kheri last week to turn the spotlight on the perils of what an agitation that prolongs can turn out to be. The incident did result in the death of at least eight people including farmers, political supporters and a journalist.

View: Lakhimpur Kheri violence, farmers agitation in UP and political parties
It has been nearly 10 months since farmers' protests began against the three laws enacted by the Union Government last year. Since then farmers largely from the influential Western Uttar Pradesh sugarcane belt, and dominant- agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana remain parked at the national highways leading to the national capital of Delhi.
It took the ghastly incident at Lakhimpur Kheri last week to turn the spotlight on the perils of what an agitation that prolongs can turn out to be. The incident did result in the death of at least eight people including farmers, political supporters and a journalist. The case is currently under police investigation and the UP Government announcing a judicial probe too. These should allow the authorities to arrive at a conclusion since there is more than one side as to what happened. In these days of instant communication and mobile, raw footage in circulation on social media add to the grist requiring meticulous investigation and scientific analysis.
While battle lines around the farmers' agitation were drawn long before, during the last 10 months the protesters and their organisations worked painstakingly to keep politicians at a respectable distance. Barring an occasional visit by leaders of some parties, the protest remained free from acquiring a political hue.
The October 3 incident led to political parties raising the issue demanding action following accusations of involvement allegedly of a son of a Union Minister, as videos doing the rounds show mowing down protesters walking forward on a path by a speeding vehicle and a convoy passing by.
While several political parties eventually reached the area, among the most high-profile protest was the one launched by the Congress party through Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the party general secretary incharge of Uttar Pradesh, two of its Chief Ministers and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The preventive detention of Priyanka Vadra and subsequent visuals around it gave the party’s image a boost, enthused its supporters in social media and sparse workers force in the state headed for polls.
The state administration in its wisdom initially denied permission to the Congress delegations to meet with the families of farmers who lost lives in the incident relented later. The party insisted that there was nothing political about the visit and aimed at providing a shoulder to the bereaved families in times of grief. Of course, its two Chief Ministers from Punjab and Chhattisgarh announced compensation to the families of farmers and a journalist. It is anybody’s guess whether such expression of solidarity can garner support from people for a party whose organisation in the state for over two decades, remains scattered.
The two Congress central leaders who were there in UP this week have often made such forays in the state which made little impact on the electorate during the last few decades. Ever since the Congress in 1996 decided to tie up with the Bahujan Samaj Party conceding 300 of the 425 assembly seats in undivided UP, it organisation bled gradually to a state of being moribund today.
The current effort should also be seen in the context of Congress politics in Punjab, a state where the farmers issue evokes strong emotions with many from the agricultural belt having relations across the state. The belt stretching from Udhamsingh Nagar to Pilibhit and adjoining districts remain connected through farming. That in a way explains the decision of the Congress to take its newest Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi to UP while Bhupesh Bhagel of Chhattisgarh was recently appointed AICC observer for elections in the state.
On its part, the BJP has its share of woes. The Jat-dominated farmers in Western UP are organising to oppose the party with Rakesh Tikait leading one segment. The Lakhimpur Kheri region too has cane growers who also await receipt of arrears for their produce procured by sugar mills. The other segment comes in the form of Rashtriya Lok Dal of Jayant Chaudhary, son of Ajit Singh that is whipping up support. In addition, the BJP is juggling to strike a balance pulled as it is by party's upper caste support base with Brahmins feeling less privileged in comparison to Thakurs.
Leaving the Congress aside, the stakes in the upcoming assembly elections in UP are for the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party with both working to challenge the BJP-government of Yogi Adityanath. In recent times, SP under Akhilesh Yadav claims that the tide is turning against the incumbent Chief Minister and winds of change are blowing in its favour. Yet, the party and its leaders were found missing from the ground from the time the state, like the rest of the country, was in a severe grip of the brutal second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for the BSP, the party banks on its strong voter support among the Dalits, a factor that works wonders at times but came a cropper during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when once sworn rivals buried differences to form an alliance. The combined vote share of SP-BSP secured 37.54 percent of votes for 15 seats as against BJP 49.98 percent for a whopping 71 seats. The farmers’ agitation has sown seeds of discontent among an influential agricultural section forcing parties in the opposition to fine-tune strategy for elections in early 2022.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
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