The epicentre of farmers’ protest has moved away from Delhi deep into the villages of Western Uttar Pradesh where more than the farm laws, non-payment of sugarcane dues and mounting input costs merge with Jat identity issues to create a political challenge for the ruling BJP.

And, unlike Punjab and Haryana, Western UP has a political vehicle in the form of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) which is providing momentum to the sensibilities of the farm movement and the conversation it ignited about rural distress.

At Bhaiswal in Shamli on Friday afternoon, a crowd of around 20,000 farmers gathered on a call given by khaps aligned with the RLD, which has fielded former Prime Minister Chowdhary Charan Singh’s grandson Jayant Chowdhary, to spearhead the political campaign. The ignition point for this political fire was the police swooping in on Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait and his emotional appeal for rescue at the Ghazipur border on January 28.

But the pent-up anger over last year’s sugarcane dues not having been paid and the Stated Advised Price (SAP) of the crop not announced even though over 60 per cent of the harvest has already been procured by the sugar mills has provided the necessary fuel to keep it aflame. The Jats got organised overnight into a Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar on January 29 and a series of such panchayats are now being held across Western UP. At Bhainsala on Friday, Amroha on February 7, Aligarh on February 9, Agra on February 13, the rallies will go on.

Farmers’ unity

The Bhainsala Panchayat provided a glimpse into the contours of this political movement.

The Jat khaps provide the organisational and logistical support while they coax other communities to join in on the slogan of “Kisan Ekta (farmers unity)”. Another aspect of this political campaign is the getting together of the Jat-Muslim communities where a division had been created after communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013.

The coming alive of this caste arithmetic coupled with the organic farm identity that has been reinforced by the movement affects almost 100 seats in the 403-member UP Assembly for which elections are due exactly a year later. “ Mussalman ki baat nahin sunoge (will you not listen to the Muslim?” asked Ghulam Mohammed Jaula to an excitable crowd of young participants in the panchayat at Bhainsala, the cheers subsiding almost immediately. “You made a mistake in 2013. You beat the Muslims and what have you gained. Hindus and Muslims are Bharat Mata’s two eyes. You want to be one-eyed, is it,” he asked.

Jayant Chowdhary and Rakesh Tikait, the two chief protagonists of the farm movement story turning political in UP, carry this discourse further, stressing on how the BJP “misguides” people and creates a “contra-factual reality”.

Talking to BusinessLine , Jayant Chowdhary said the problem with the BJP is that they see everything in terms of winning elections. “Greta Thunberg is an enemy of India. Rihanna is an enemy. The farmers are enemies. Think of what it is doing to what was our biggest strength which was soft power at a global stage. Compared to China and Russia, our biggest strength was democracy. But now we’re jailing journalists, banning singers. How does it impact the international investor and general business climate” Jayant Chowdhary said.