16 Mar 2018 19:54 IST

The BJP must be worried

The ruling party must be quite shaken with farmers’ protests and losing UP and Bihar elections

Two major political events that occurred this week would have shaken the government and the ruling party which was, till recently, basking in the glory of its victory in the North East Assembly elections.

Shout of the farmers

One was the 170-km, six-day ‘long march’ of the farmers in Maharashtra, from Nashik to Mumbai pressing for their long-pending demands. It brought the issue of rural distress back to the limelight. The farmers’ march, organised by the CPI(M)-backed All-India Kisan Sabha, came in for much appreciation from all quarters for its peaceful, non-violent nature.

Though the English dailies were slow in picking up this news, limiting themselves to front-page photos, by the time the march wound itself to Mumbai, all papers featured this story prominently on the front pages.

The farmers’ march also had a remarkable amount of support from the common citizens, most of them city dwellers, who came out in large numbers to offer food and water to the protesters. For the CPI(M), battered by its recent loss in the Tripura elections, the success of the farmers’ rally was certainly a shot in the arm.

The farmers’ demands included full loan waiver — the various State governments had so far given only partial loan waivers with conditions attached — minimum support prices, land title rights for forest dwellers, and implementation of the Swaminathan committee report recommendations.

The rally had a poignant resonance as, tragically, Maharashtra accounted for more than 40 per cent of farmer suicides in 2015. That the State government agreed to most of the farmers’ demand shows how politically crucial this segment of society has become for the ruling dispensation.

Crucial pointer?

The farmers’ march also provided a crucial pointer towards the 2019 general elections. Political parties, both ruling and those in the Opposition, can ill-afford to ignore the rural folk. The Centre and some of the State governments have swung into action to alleviate the farmers’ distress and the Budget too had some policy initiatives towards the agriculture sector.

But the crucial factor is how well these policy initiatives are implemented at the ground level. If the farmers don’t see any visible improvements in their livelihoods in the near term, it may prove costly for the State governments in power.

The Opposition parties, which are trying to stitch an anti-BJP alliance, also need to get their act together and come out with a coherent, well-crafted policy to boost the farm sector.

Though some of the problems afflicting Indian agriculture are structurally deep rooted and cannot be solved before the next general elections, some of the short-term measures, if implemented properly, will go a long way in alleviating rural distress.

Losing a grip

The other important event that shook the ruling BJP were the by-poll reverses in UP and Bihar.

The defeat in the hands of the SP in Uttar Pradesh, in alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party, must have been particularly painful for the BJP, given that both were BJP pocket-boroughs.

The Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat was held by UP Chief Minister Adityanath since 1998 and by the BJP since 1989. Its loss must have definitely stung the BJP. What was remarkable was the way arch-enemies SP and BSP were able to put aside their bitter past and join hands to defeat the ruling party.

In Bihar’s Araria by-poll too, it was Lalu Prasad’s RJD that triumphed over the Nitish-led NDA. Clearly, Lalu’s conviction in the fodder scam case didn’t have any impact on the voters.

These by-election results have certainly given a wind to the Opposition’s sails and taken some sheen off the BJP’s spectacular victories in the North-East. Though it is still too early to call the next general elections, as the BJP is still the most formidable election-winning machine in the country, the by-poll results will surely be worrying for the ruling party.

Ironically, despite its victory in the North-East, many of the BJP’s allies seem to be unhappy and are mulling walking out of the NDA.

The Telegu Desam Party has already pulled out of the government and the NDA, with its minister resigning. It has even moved a no-confidence motion against the government. If more allies desert the NDA, the BJP will have its hands full in keeping the rest of the flock together and looking for new allies.

The elections in crucial States — Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — will be seen as the semi-finals to the 2019 general elections. If the Congress is able to win in at least two out of these three States, the BJP, for all its formidable resources, will go worriedly into the 2019 elections.