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Published on: Jan. 13, 2021, 3:44 p.m.
Poll signal from Haryana
  • More farmers from Haryana have joined the stir after it shifted to the borders of Delhi, which does not make the election results of the Haryana municipal bodies surprising

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

A quick resolution of the ongoing farmers’ agitation has become imperative if the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies want to retain their sway in Punjab and Haryana. While the BJP’s long-standing ally Akali Dal has gone its way against the farm laws, the outcome of the local civil polls in neighbouring Haryana has sent out a more ominous message. Of the seven bodies that went to the polls on 27 December, the BJP won just two of the five municipal bodies it contested. Its alliance partner drew a blank in the remaining two bodies. The defeat included losses in two big municipal corporations.

“Samajhdar ko to ishara hi kafi hai (A wise man just needs a hint),” was how Manohar Lal Khattar, the two-time chief minister of Haryana, reacted when he was asked during a media briefing if the farmers’ protest was responsible for his party’s poor performance. Ever since the farmers of Punjab and Haryana began their morcha against the new agri laws, the Khattar government has booked several farm leaders from the state and has continuously tried to discredit their movement by calling it the handiwork of Opposition parties.

Visuals of the Haryana police doing everything they can to prevent farmers from marching towards Delhi in the last week of November are etched permanently in the memories of tens of thousands of people. More farmers from Haryana have joined the stir after it shifted to the borders of Delhi, which does not make the election results of the Haryana municipal bodies surprising.

The poll results were a setback for the ruling BJP-JJP (Jannayak Janta Party) alliance as it failed to perform impressively in urban areas. In Haryana, the saffron party has influence predominantly in urban areas. Even then, its mayoral candidates lost the poll battle in Sonipat and Ambala. In Panchkula too, it could win the mayoral poll by a narrow margin. This has happened despite the fact that the ruling party almost always has an advantage in the civic body polls as it is in a better position to dispense favours to the electorate.

Agitation looms large

In alliance with BJP, Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s JJP had fielded presidential candidates for Uklana and Dharuhera municipal councils, but lost both. Not only this, most of its candidates lost the poll battle for ward elections too. BJP leaders confess in private that the JJP now appears to be turning a liability for them. Chautala has faced the farmers’ wrath for not “siding them like Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who had resigned from the Union Cabinet in their support”.

The agitation affected the poll outcome because a considerable number of people including government employees living in Haryana’s towns originally belong to farming communities. Furthermore, the widespread support to the agitation has created an atmosphere, which has pushed BJP-JJP leaders into a corner. Till now no plan of BJP appears working in favour of it.

Indeed, reports from the hinterland suggest that most people belonging to the farming community appear to have been swayed by the argument that ‘corporates will grab land from farmers and prices of essential commodities will go up’ after the implementation of three farm laws. Not only this, controversial statements by few BJP leaders on farmers too backfired. The results will force the alliance to introspect on the issue of the agitation. “It’s true that the results are not as good as we were expecting,” says Haryana BJP spokesperson Raman Malik.

The Congress has fared relatively well but could have done better. The infighting in Congress has come to the fore again with the camps of senior leaders including Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Kumari Selja and Randeep Singh Surjewala not contesting the civic body elections united. There is a feeling in political circles that the party could have performed well in Ambala and Panchkula, had they fought the polls united. Indeed, if the issues are not resolved immediately, the fighting may intensify in Congress in coming days.

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