BJP on the backfoot ahead of polls

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on October 05, 2021

Clash threatens to derail the party’s narrative built around Hindutva politics

Sunday’s violence in the largest district of Uttar Pradesh, Lakhimpur Kheri, is a turning point that has simultaneously galvanised a subdued Opposition, spread the farm movement from the west to the central and eastern parts and jolted the ruling BJP a few months ahead of the State Assembly elections.

While the farm agitation has already found political roots in Punjab and Haryana, its extension deep into poll-bound UP and neighbouring Uttarakhand under “Mission UP and Uttarakhand” announced by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has been expedited by the events on Sunday.

A group of farmers who had gathered on Sunday at the helipad at Maharaja Agrasen ground, Tikonia area in Lakhimpur Kheri to stop the Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya from landing were allegedly confronted by a convoy of vehicles, one of which was registered in the name of BJP MP and Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra. While the vehicles mowed down four farmers, four others were allegedly killed when the angry farmers retaliated.

Turning point

This incident marks a shift in the political narrative that has thus far been dominated by the BJP’s strong Hindutva push, social engineering and a specific brand of welfarism involving direct cash transfers, distribution of rations etc. It suddenly finds a challenge in a discourse doused in farmers’ issues, collective anger against lawlessness, bureaucratic anarchy and administrative arrogance.

For the first time, strongman Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has had to negotiate with the agitating farmers and reach a compromise that entails registering an FIR against Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, for murder. The State government also announced compensation for the death of four farmers who were mowed down allegedly by Ashish Mishra along with 15 others and the promise of a Government job to the next-of-kin of the deceased.

The obvious political corollary to the registration of a murder charge against his son is the demand for his arrest and the resignation of Ajay Mishra and it is already being raised from a wide cast of characters – from the farmers’ groups, SKM, chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Punjab who were denied entry in UP on Monday and, of course, the detained Opposition leaders Akhilesh Yadav, Priyanka Gandhi and Jayant Chowdhary. The collective assertion that the farmers are being “mowed down” is being illustrated in different social media accounts with visuals of farmers being actually crushed by a speeding vehicle.

‘Protest may snowball’

In the coming days, demand for the arrest of the Union Minister’s son, a statutory requirement after registration of the cognizable offence of murder against him, will likely gain ground along with a cry for removal of Ajay Mishra from the Union Cabinet. So far, the BJP has officially kept mum on the episode leaving the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to describe the Lakhimpur Kheri incident as “sad and unfortunate”. When the Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Lucknow this week, he would find it more difficult than usual not to talk about Sunday’s violence that has suddenly heightened political temperature in UP.

Published on October 04, 2021

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