Alarmed over the raging farmers’ protests in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which led to the death of five farmers in firing on Tuesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party has put its senior leaders in Gujarat on high alert and asked them to immediately start talks with local farm bodies and influential agriculturists to prevent the agitation from spilling over in the state, which is scheduled for polls later this year.
These measures followed an emergency meeting called on Wednesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take stock of the situation. The meeting was attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
According to a senior BJP leader, Union ministers Parshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya have been asked to camp in Gujarat and coordinate the party’s efforts to prevent any spillover of the farmers’ demonstrations that have gripped the neighbouring states. Rupala is a minister of state in the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry, while Mandaviya is a minister of state in the road transport and highways ministry.
The two Union ministers, who belong to the Patidar or Patel community, have been asked specifically to work to prevent any revival of the Patidar agitation of 2015. That July, when Patidars paralysed parts of Gujarat, taking to the streets demanding reservations in government jobs, Rupala and Mandaviya were the BJP’s main firefighters. Though the Patidar agitation has remained dormant for quite some time, the community is said to be still restive.
The Congress party’s decision to start a farmers’ demonstration in every district headquarters in Gujarat to express solidarity with the agitating farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra is possibly another reason behind the BJP’s attempts to ensure that the farmers’ agitation does not reach the poll-bound state.
According to party insiders, BJP president Amit Shah has rescheduled all his appointments for the next week so that he can concentrate on Gujarat. The BJP has asked all its MPs, MLAs and district presidents in the state to stay in their constituencies and districts and engage local farmers and their unions in talks so as to stop them from getting into an agitational mode.
The farmers’ protest started in Maharashtra and then reached Madhya Pradesh. Both are BJP-ruled states. There are already indications that the farmers’ agitation is spreading to Rajasthan, another BJP-ruled state, where farmers under the banner of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti have reportedly given the state government a week-long ultimatum to meet their demands for better prices for their crops, as well as those related to agricultural pensions and loan waivers.
As of now, the BJP – having successfully managed the Patidar agitation – seems to be in a comfortable position in Gujarat, which it has ruled since 1998. A farmers’ agitation, if allowed to erupt, might disturb the balance and hurt the party’s prospects in the prime minister’s home state.