Days after the BKU’s Naresh Tikait suggested a social boycott of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, an MP, MLA and several leaders of the party visited Lisad village in Shamli Sunday afternoon in the first such foray by the party into ground zero of the Jat unrest over the farm laws in western Uttar Pradesh.
However, anger with the BJP over the laws was palpable, as its Muzaffarnagar MP and Union Minister of State Sanjeev Balyan and Buldana MLA Umesh Malik, among others, were met with slogans of “Balyan Murdabad” and “Kisan Ekta Zindabad” in village Baiswal.
The BJP attempt to retain its Jat base comes ahead of the zila panchayat elections. “BJP-backed candidates had won 25 of the 26 zila panchayats in west UP last time and the Jat community has a sizeable presence in at least 18,” pointed out a senior BJP functionary.
Lisad, where the BJP leaders headed on Sunday, is the native village of khap panchayat leader Baba Harikishan, who enjoys a huge following in the region. Harikrishan said there was no going back for the community. “We clearly told Balyan and Bhupendra Chaudhary (UP Panchayati Raj Minister) that the Centre must repeal the farm laws. We also informed them that sugarcane growers hadn’t been paid their dues even for the last season.”
Denying that there was a boycott of the BJP, Balyan said, “We assured the people that we will make every possible attempt to ensure their grievances are taken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
Western UP has been seeing a series of mahapanchayats against the farm laws, drawing progressively larger crowds, starting with Muzaffarnagar on January 29. Around a dozen of these meetings have been addressed by Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhary, with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi attending several, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expected in Meerut on February 28.
On February 15, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief J P Nadda stepped in, holding a meeting with Jat leaders from UP, Haryana and Rajasthan. Jayant Chaudhary talked of this meeting at a recent mahapanchayat, saying, “We have come to know that Amit Shah and other BJP leaders are trying to wedge a rift among farmers on caste and communal lines… We must stand united.”
Baba Sanjay Singh of Kal Khande Khap in Muzaffarnagar said they were disappointed with the BJP calling farmers “terrorists and traitors”. “If a BJP leader wants to talk to us, they should resign first. They should be among us like one of us,” he said.
In Tikait’s native village of Sisauli and neighbouring regions, his call for a boycott of the BJP seems to be having a tangible impact. Considered the ‘chaudhary’ or leader of 84 predominantly Jat villages, Tikait holds big sway in rural Muzaffarnagar.
“We have a strong sense of unity and the cause has united us further. We won’t let BJP leaders enter; they should talk only when the laws are repealed,” said Ajit Chaudhary, 24, a farmer from Sisauli. “No MLA, MP or leader should come to meet us. If they want to talk about the farm laws, they should do it with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. Whatever the morcha tells us, we will do,” said Sachin Chaudhary of the Chaudhary Khap.
The ripple effect could also be felt in Kutba, the native village of MP Balyan. “Traditionally, the Jats have always supported the BJP. But this time, there is a change. We can’t completely turn Balyan away or bar him because his home is here. But the fact is people are unhappy with the BJP. Tikait and his family have our respect and admiration,” said Kunwar Pal Singh Dewan.
In Sambhal’s Bhadraula, locals have put up a signboard saying BJP members are not welcome.
The BJP says Tikait has himself clarified that he made no such boycott call. “For the last two days I have been in the area and I have faced no such thing (boycott). I was in Jaitpur village right next to Sisauli, and spent many hours there. I also visited other villages in the vicinity for public gatherings. We have the support of locals,” Balyan told The Indian Express.
He also argued that Tikait as a farm leader and he as a public representative had their distinct roles. “I respect Tikait since he is also the leader of my community. But our work as a public servant will continue without any interference,” Balyan said.
Umesh Malik, the BJP Budhana MLA, said: “People are supporting us; in fact the support has increased. Sisauli is part of my Vidhan Sabha seat and I meet locals regularly.”
Asked by The Indian Express Saturday about his boycott call, Tikait said, “My words are being taken out of context. All I said was that people should not engage with those trying to vitiate the atmosphere.”
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