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Why did the farmers’ agitation fail to topple governments in the latest assembly elections?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath

After declarations of results of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, the jury is out on the impact of, or lack of it, of the farmers' agitation on the poll outcome.

Defying the dire predictions of poll pundits, western Uttar Pradesh, the epicenter of the farmers agitation, did not ditch the BJP and instead stunned the farmers leaders with shocking defeats.

It was widely believed that the farmers' agitation, which had continued unabated for a year or so, unprecedented in the history of our country, would ensure a clean sweep for the opposition parties. That did not happen.The farmer leaders are still shell shocked and are unable to figure out what struck them.

Hearing the assertive pronouncements of farm leaders, pre-election, particularly by leaders like Rakesh Tikait, it seemed that the incumbent party would be routed totally. It was also predicted that the formidable Jat dominated belt would side with SP- with whom the junior partner party, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had also aligned. The performance of the combined opposition was not only much below expectations, but also poor.

In the 2017 assembly elections, the BJP had garnered the majority of votes in western UP but this time, a complete reversal of fortunes was predicted -citing the negative impact of the farmers agitation and anti-incumbency. This is where, it seems, the political pundits and politicians erred. They presumed that farmers were angrily opposed to the three farm laws and were hostile to the establishment for ignoring the farming community and its demands for repeal of the three infamous farm laws. This presumption was totally off the mark, as barring a few pockets in western UP and its terai area, the farmers across the length and breadth of this politically volatile state, remained aloof and did not participate in large numbers.


The people of Punjab summarily rejected the political outfit born out of the farmers’ agitation but have erred by choosing a party of the same ilk

This agitation had raised hopes of many so called “leaders “that they would reap electoral dividends by actively participating in it. All of them are feeling cheated today and the top leadership is totally sidelined, politically. This was visible earlier too but the farmer leaders of UP chose to ignore the ominous signs of lack of enthusiasm amongst the farmers at large- which was continuously reflected in poor attendance at the site of agitation on the U.P. border.

Only after the 26th January incident, did the crowd increase in numbers at the Ghazipur border of the national capital. The writing was on the wall, but was ignored.

Another important aspect of the farmers’ agitation was that both sides failed to sell their side of the story to the people. The ill- conceived and ill- advised three farm laws were finally withdrawn by the PM and he admitted the failure of the government in convincing the farmers at large On the other side, the Kisan Morcha, spearheading the agitation also could not mobilise the majority of the farmers belonging to the central and eastern parts of UP as well as farmers from other states- to come out in their support. Hence the agitation, despite lingering on for almost a year and, despite the peasants, braving the extremes of heat, cold and rain, could not convert the support and goodwill of the community into votes.

Many people had hoped that the kind of humongous support the farmers agitation had received from the farming community of Punjab, would result in the Kisan Morcha led party to make substantial gains politically. Unfortunately, the Kisan Morcha led political outfit lost all seats in Punjab in the recently concluded election and their leader also ignominiously lost the electoral battle by a huge margin.

This experiment has a lesson for all to learn. Not so long ago, a political outfit was born out of Anna’s agitation against corruption and a few of those who were in the forefront of the agitation were successful in enhancing the public support for the cause. They also misled and succeeded in deceiving the people into believing that the Lok Pal bill was the panacea for a gamut of problems like all pervasive corruption, poverty, backwardness etc.

The irony is that that party, born out of the anti-corruption movement, is the one which is now neck deep in corruption and has the audacity to sell its ‘model’ brand of governance to other states. People have to understand that launching an agitation on any issue is something which can be managed with misinformation, disinformation and resources mobilized by certain vested interests, but governance is a tough challenge.

Punjab Farmers

Good governance requires integrity, comprehending problems and their solutions, knowledge, patience, tolerance, compassion and much more. The people of Punjab summarily rejected the political outfit born out of the farmers’ agitation but have erred by choosing a party of the same ilk. The results of this grave misjudgment will be apparent soon. For this, the people are not to be blamed. All the so- called mainstream parties were tainted in diverse ways and failed to deliver to the common people. A lack of options led them to opt for the new alternatives.

This is a lesson for all to heed. We must be inordinately cautious and prudent in exercising our franchise and not succumb to the communal, casteist or other nefarious narratives temptingly created by our politicians to beguile us. Otherwise, we will be made to pay dearly for callously choosing  our unethical representatives, as we are doing currently and suffering the egregious cost of all pervasive poverty, corruption, crime and underdevelopment.

(Vijay Shankar Pandey retired from the Indian Administrative Service. He has an established record of raising his voice against corruption in public life. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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