Impact of Farmers Protests on Muncipal Corporation Elections in Punjab 2021

Source- Google Images.

Background

Farmers are protesting against the three farm laws brought by government of India since last 83 days. The farmer protests started out in Mansa region of Punjab when ordinances for the three laws were brought by government of India. The anger of people against the Central govt was visible right from the start of the movement. The resentment against the ruling congress government of Punjab started to build up when it was in public knowledge that captain amrinder singh was fully complicit in Centre’s plan to bring the three laws. His participation in the meeting chaired to discuss the laws brought more anger towards Patiala prince. The results of Muncipal Corporation elections however tell another story.

Akalis tried to leverage the protests against the three laws with all their might. As a matter of fact it was Akali Supremo Sukhbir Singh Badal who met farmer unions when ordinances were drafted and tabled. He received the suggestions by unions (two of them) that the laws need more guarantee on safety of Mandis and that MSP be ensured. As per SAD it took the message to centre but centre betrayed them. Farmers however maintain that Akalis were clueless about the laws and did not come back with any major assurance from centre. It was only after the bills were passed to be made into laws that Akalis pushed their protest game. Akali Dal mobilised it’s workers in Punjab and took out rallies from all three Takht Sahibs. The rally which was significant and major due to its sheer numbers proceeded towards Chandigarh. Akalis were detained and the goal of rally to meet Governor was not accomplished. SAD’s efforts to leverage on farmers protests continued with its leaders organising protests using their workers. Akalis gave up on their two decades of alliance with BJP to secure the future in 2022 elections but has it helped them; the Muncipal elections say NO.

Following in the line of Akalis, Captain Amrinder Singh too took out the rallies against the farm laws. The rally even though did not manage the numbers as high as Akalis was attended by Rahul Gandhi himself. Captain tried to keep Punjab’s farmers calm by meeting them and convincing them to end the Rail Roko protests as it had started to affect Punjab’s coal supply and essential goods supplies as well. Captain also chaired session of Punjab Assembly and passed resolution against the new farm laws. The resolution was not signed by governor.

AAP remained a silent spectator for a long time in Punjab when it came to farm laws. AAP being a Delhi based party has struggled with its Punjab face. Bhagwant Mann could not defend his party’s stance on walkout instead of opposition to the laws in the parliament for a very long time. Mann and party did some good and significant work during pandemic including reaching out to people in their areas. Arvind Kejriwal often engaged in twitter war with Captain Amrinder singh but refrained from commenting on the laws until Nov 26, 2020 when farmers landed on the doors of Delhi.

Muncipal Elections 2021.

Muncipal elections are significant because of the timing of elections. These elections were supposed to be held in 2020 but were postponed due to corona pandemic. Muncipal elections are held every five years and hold greater significance this time around because they are seen as trailer to the Punjab Assembly elections next year (2022). Farmers protests make these elections all the more important.

Curious case of BJP

BJP has not been able to breathe in Punjab ever since the three farm laws were passed. Not a single day has passed in Punjab when BJP’s workers and members were not opposed. BJP not only experienced massive attrition and exodus of its members since August 2020 but also faced the anger and wrath of people of Punjab. An estimated 146 BJP workers quit the party and joined no other party in Punjab. More than 35 senior BJP people (of the ranks of state secretary- Kang) resigned from the party. BJP’s visible faces Surjit Jayani, Harjeet Grewal, Ashwini Sharma faced anger of people every single day after farmers came back disappointed from Delhi during their very first meeting in October 2020.

Back to elections

Elections were held in 117 urban local bodies (ULBs) — including eight municipal corporations, 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats — of Punjab. Bypolls were held in four wards. In 2015, elections were held in 123 municipal councils with 69 per cent of consolidated voting.

This time, 9,222 candidates are in the fray, of which 2,832 are independents.

While the average voter turnout in Punjab’s 117 urban local bodies (ULBs) was 71.39 per cent, 22 Nagar Panchayats (NPs) in the state, which have a large rural base, recorded a turnout higher than the state’s average.

Reason for heavy turnout

It is interesting to note that 12 out of 26 Nagar Panchayats voted above 80 per cent and all of them are in state’s Malwa region, which has 46 per cent of the total NPs while 10 out of 26 Nagar Panchayats voted above 74 per cent and less than 80%.

NPs are connected with villages as either farmers themselves or people of allied professions live in these NPs. So, the voters in these NPs are connected with the protests against farm laws. This creates an interesting dynamic here because most of the people in villages voted against the parties responsible for bringing in the farm laws. In most cases the independent candidates were preferred with congress taking the second preference. The final tally does show congress as the clear winner but independent candidates took major chunk of votes in NP’s. Since NP’s clearly mean either villages or the rural areas, the anger against the political parties translated into the election results.

In Boha which is an NP in Mansa, Harinder Kaur voted and she urged her family to vote. “We never voted during these elections but this time I told my sons and daughters to vote for the sake of farmers. My husband is sitting at Tikri Border, the last thing we want to do is to throne the very people responsible for keeping our men at the borders of Delhi.” The sentiment in Boha is so high that voting percentage is around 84%

Another village Nihal Singh wala in Moga experienced 84.35% voting. This is the village that has maximum number of farmers in Tihar jail after 26th Jan. The Sarpanch of the village Jagjit singh says that the entire village voted against the people who have our boys and men in their jails. “There is no question of BJP. There is no question of voting for their allies (former or future).” He says that he voted for an independent candidate and also says that consensus of village was to steer clear of BJP only.

Bathinda is also an epicentre of the farmers protests in Delhi with major chunk of farmers at Singhu border. Many farmers from Bathinda who could not or have been to Delhi borders once are protesting at Jeeda Toll plaza. Bathinda polled over 80%. In NP called as Kothaguru the polling was around 75% and people had even posted the posters of “No entry for BJP people” in this village right before the polling day.

Results

The final results of Punjab Muncipal Corporation and Nagar Panchayat Elections are

The congress party won six Muncipal Corporations and emerged as the largest party in the seventh in 2021 Punjab MC elections. The Congress won in Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Abohar , Batala and Pathankot. The counting for another MC will take place today ie Thursday, 18Feb 2021.

Captain Amrinder singh called the victory of congress as slap to parties like SAD, BJP and AAP. Another congress leader Deepinder Hooda said that people are now aware and are actually listening to their own ‘Mann Ki Baat.’ He said that the results are clear indication of disillusionment of people of Punjab against BJP.

The elections however have not been really peaceful. National media has not been covering the event right from bits but these Muncipal elections were full of violence. At many places the violence between police and candidates was observed. There were instances of booth capturing by Congress and Akalis at some places. Before the elections had started the prelude to its violent nature was seen in a violent conflict between SAD and congress workers in Jalalabad where Sukhbir Badal’s car was damaged. AAP too was not immune to violence and was seen being a victim to police actions. It is also observed that the nomination papers of many Akali leaders and AAP leaders were cancelled day before the elections.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal in her message after results of elections were declared alluded to all these facts about the violence and use of state machinery by congress to oust all other parties in the elections. But is that enough to bring the results that we see?

Factors leading to congress win in rural and urban Punjab

1. Punjab is the only state that has rejected centre’s centralisation efforts and has always advocated for more powers to states. It is clear that more than 70% of people in Punjab see the current BJP govt at centre as threat to federal structure of states. In Amritsar for example, there are theories that central govt might give off Pathankot to J&K and Abohar to Haryana or Chd.

2. Arm Twisting tactics of Centre have put Distrust in Punjab. It is clear that centre did use its power to arm twist Punjab when farmers had blocked the railway lines in September-October 2020. It was shocking for Punjabis to learn that centre won’t resume the trains even after assurances by farmers that trains won’t be disrupted. This had led to massive power cuts in Punjab leading to building up of anger. In addition to this Centre stopped Rural Development Fund that Punjab received through Mandis. This was seen as direct attack on Punjab’s development. Centre continued to defend its actions on the issue citing that it seeks audit on use of RFD.

3. Religious issues are never separate from politics in Punjab. The justice seems evasive in Kotakpura Firing incident with Sumedh Saini’s bail application in the court. The inability of govt to bring justice triggered the history of people who shielded the man. Akalis faced the major backlash from panthic circles in Punjab for the complicity and shields it provided to Saini during its tenure. In addition to this SGPC landed in trouble with 328 missing Saroops of Guru Garanth Sahib Ji. The explanation for the missing Saroops never satisfied anyone leading to direct attacks on Badal family due to their direct links and alleged control of the the SGPC.

4. Rising unemployment and Issues of pensioners in Punjab gave major vote share to independent young candidates who looked as promising faces to people in the regular rhetoric of Congress and Akali Dal. Unemployment has been major issue in Punjab with unemployed youth protesting about it since September. Many young independent candidates who talk about these issues stole the show in MC and NP elections.

5. Divisive Hindutva Policies of the Central government have always been opposed by Punjab. As a matter of fact Punjab, Kashmir, Kerala and West Bengal are the only states that have been rather unconquerable for the right wing BJP govt. People of Punjab have voted out secession and divisive policies after the lessons it learnt in the 80s. The congress in Punjab in the words of Captain himself abstains from “interfering in religion of its subjects”. The goal of congress has been national security making it really strong face among punjabi Hindus as well. Akalis on the other hand have been known to play Khalistan card time and again to invoke Sikh sentiments for their votes. People of Punjab through this election have spelt out what they feel. Even though the disillusionment with captain is high in panthic circles with highest number of Sikh youth stamped with UAPA, But it is still considered fairly better option than SAD.

6. Farmers protests against the three farm laws is the strongest nail in the coffin of BJP and SAD in Punjab. With over 200 farmers dead on the borders of Delhi and more than 100 arrests the anger against BJP knows no limits. The party continues to vilify farmers and plays deaf to the demands of the farmers leading to more build up with every passing day.

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