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Why Prolonged Farmers' Agitation is Bad News for Mainstream Political Parties in Punjab

Representative image.

Representative image.

Though the biggest hit has been taken by the BJP which has lost its ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), other mainstream parties, including the ruling Congress, are not untouched either.

As thousands of farmers continue to hold fort on the outskirts of the national capital, the ripple effect has started to impact the political waters of Punjab. The prolonged agitation is increasingly setting off alarm bells within mainstream parties with leaders trying to assess what indelible impact it leaves behind on the political landscape in the state where elections are due next year.

Though the biggest hit has been taken by the BJP which has lost its ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), other mainstream parties, including the ruling Congress, are not untouched either.

On Tuesday, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh even called an all-party meeting to build a consensus on how to build pressure on the Centre to resolve the crisis. The meeting ended with an Aam Admi Party (AAP) delegation walking out in protest against the CM not agreeing to a rather ludicrous demand to send Punjab Police to protest sites for “providing security to the agitating farmers”.

The SAD too tried to score some political points claiming they forced the CM to accept their demand of raising the issue of notices from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to farmer’s leaders with the Centre.

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The differences at the meeting are indicative of how mainline political parties are vying amongst each other to stay relevant in an emotionally charged ecosystem triggered by huge support that the farmers’ agitation has been garnering from both rural and urban areas.

The Congress, in the past, has had its share of bickering with senior party leaders like Partap Singh Bajwa openly targeting the Amarinder Singh’s leadership. The AAP, which had hoped to emerge as a major threat to the Congress, found itself tied in knots after several of its top leaders quit in the last few years. The SAD has already seen a split and the farm laws brought in by its one-time ally has only added to its woes. Smaller offshoot political outfits have emerged out of these mainstream parties.

The farmers’ agitation and the huge support it has drawn has understandably made all political parties rally around the agitation. The worry of the mainstream parties, according to political analysts, is that the prolonged agitation could push them to the fringes and a new political force may emerge whose contours and composition seems unclear as of now.

“They have not come out in large numbers in support of a cause like this. Importantly, they (farmers) have been doing this without the face of a prominent political leader. This sudden surge of sentiment can result in a new force emerging and provide a threat to the existing political system in the state,’’ said Navjit Singh Sandhu, an analyst.

Experts also point out that past political affiliation of some of the farmer leaders will also weigh in once the turbulent political waters triggered by the agitation settle down. “Most of these leaders who we have been seeing on television have been associated political parties in the past. Once they return from the Singhu (and other borders with Delhi where the protests are underway), their affiliations will surely come into play and political parties in the state would try to take advantage of this," said Bir Devinder, another political expert.

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