With the Prime Minister announcing that the three farm laws will be repealed in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament starting on November 29, BJP is set to take the message to the Jat and Sikh voters of western Uttar Pradesh and the Lakhimpur Kheri-Pilibhit Terai belt. The saffron party’s assessment is that the Braj-western UP region will again be polarized after this rollback and with the Samajwadi Party aggressively wooing the Muslims in the region.
The old game plan adopted by BJP since the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that shifted the Jat voters towards the party is likely to get a boost also with a more active involvement of Home Minister Amit Shah who will be focusing more on western UP in these elections. Party insiders said Shah is unofficially playing a more crucial role in managing internal strains in BJP and with NDA partners, getting leaders and smaller parties to its side and the overall strategizing. In 2017 UP polls, he had won back the Jats who had misgivings about the impact of demonetisation.
Party leaders maintain that the main issue in western UP is the fight for dominance in the region between Jats and Muslims, who both own sizable land. The rift between them after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and the alliance struck by Ajit Singh-led RLD with Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections led Jats to support BJP. The party is hopeful that it will be able to convince the Jats- who were gradually burying their differences with Muslims in the wake of the farm law protests- will return to its fold.
“While the rich Jats may still have some issues with BJP due to the year-long protests and we will have to work on them, the commoners among them will back the party after repeal of the laws,” a BJP leader said.
BJP plans to aggressively sell the narrative that the farm law protests were fanned by Khalistani elements and this posed a threat to the nation. In Lakhimpur Kheri incident, a message is being sent across that those involved in the lynching of BJP workers in retaliation for the mauling of four protesting farmers were Khalistan supports as can be seen from the slogans on their T-shirts.
Moreover, as the Samajwadi Party reaches out to Muslims in western UP and is also likely to field some candidates from the minority community to capitalize on their numerical strength in the region, BJP leaders feel this will further polarize the electorate.
Some BJP leaders said RLD had gained ground due to the farm law protests and the saffron party is keeping a watch on which way the Jats tilt in the polls. BJP is also likely to target RLD on its alliance with SP and allege that the former is trying to woo Muslims more than the Jats.
In the past few months, BJP leadership in the state as well as the Centre was worried that its support base in western UP may move towards SP and RLD. “We were not able to fully convince the voters in this belt in the past few months and this has been a major issue of concern for us,” a BJP leader said.
Shah’s experience in handling UP since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when he was in-charge of the state as a national general secretary will be utilized by the party. NDA partners had also been demanding that he should be more active in UP. Most leaders feel taking their problems to Shah helps in “single-window clearance” as he has the authority to take decisions and convince the squabbling factions in the state unit and address grievances of allies.