When assembly elections in India’s most populous and politically important state began on February 7 in the western districts of Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had to face significant headwinds in the form of Jat anger, fueled by 14-month peasant unrest. against three farm bills.
On March 10, however, evidence suggests the BJP was able to neutralize anger in the region by repealing laws more than three months before the election, focusing on law and order in an area scarred by the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, suppressing the extent of the Jat’s anger and targeting their campaign at other communities that continued to support the BJP. While the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal (SP-RLD) combination made dent in areas where farmers’ anger was highest, a counter-consolidation helped the BJP navigate.
Of the total 136 seats that went to the polls in the first two rounds, the BJP won 93, the SP-RLD 43.
In January, looking at the possibility of the Jats joining the RLD, the BJP had to step up its campaign in the region to stem its losses. “The campaign got off to a flying start when Interior Minister Amit Shah went door-to-door in Kairana. The impact of this decision galvanized the cadres and also helped to blunt the anger of the Jat community,” a senior party official said. The choice of Kairana as the starting point for Shah’s campaign was seen as a decision to tackle what had become a demographic challenge for the party.
Kairana made headlines in 2017 when Hukum Singh, then a BJP MP, alleged an exodus of Hindu families from the area. Shah met some of these families who had moved following alleged communal tensions in the region which has 1.7 million voters, including more than 300,000 Muslims.
“The BJP has maintained its focus on improving law and order in the state; the drop in the crime rate and the speed with which action was taken against offenders. And since this is an issue that affects all castes and classes, the BJP could prevent the SP-RLD combination from profiting from the negative sentiments,” the BJP leader added as quoted above.
During the election campaign, while there were signs of a return of the Jats to the RLD-SP, but a combination of the Union government’s repeal of the Three Farm Bills and the memory of the riots of Muzaffarnagar in the SP regimen reduced the magnitude of the change. Although there were gains for the opposition in Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Shamli districts, with top BJP candidates Sangeet Som and Minister of State Suresh Rana both losing out, the impact of the movement of Farmers failed to undermine the BJP vote bank in Saharanpur, Bulandshahr and Hapur Districts.
Farm leaders said that while the effects of farm unrest and the unification of the Jat-Muslim vote were clear in seats such as Siwalkhas in Meerut, which was won by RLD’s Ghulam Mohammad, the wider representation of the movement agricultural as just a matter of Jat hurt the opposition.
“This perception, aided by sections of the media, has helped the BJP in its performance despite people’s anger,” BKU (Asli) Chairman Harpal Singh Bilari said.