Uttar Pradesh: Farmers angry at poverty and inequality in ‘Ram Rajya’

How costly will the BJP’s decision to field Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ from Kheri be?

File photo of a farmers' protest meet
File photo of a farmers' protest meet

Asad Rizvi

With the fortunes of both men up for the test tomorrow, 13 May, in the fourth round of polling for the Lok Sabha elections, how costly will the BJP’s decision to field Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ from Kheri, and Karan Bhushan Singh from Kaiserganj be?

Mishra’s son and Singh’s father (outgoing BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh) courted controversies which are still raging. Indeed, in Brij Bhushan's case, we've only just begun, as an old song goes.

Ashish Mishra, son of the minister, is accused of deliberately mowing down and killing six protesting farmers in 2021 when his SUV, with him allegedly at the wheel, hit them from behind. The son was arrested and put in jail before being bailed out, and continues to face trial as an accused.

The minister was also accused of misbehaving with farmers in his constituency, abusing them in public and protecting the errant son. The prime minister refused to succumb to the clamour to sack his minister, and has fielded him again in 2024 from Khiri in Uttar Pradesh.

Known among his supporters as ‘Teni Maharaj’, the minister has largely addressed small meetings of a few hundred people during his campaign. He has avoided too much mingling, and will not answer any questions. His team has ensured that the media is kept at arm’s length and the candidate is confined to the stage. He has also avoided going into hamlets where Sikh farmers have settled, presumably because some of the six farmers mowed down in 2021 happened to be Sikh.

He has kept his speeches short and dwelt on the neglect of Khiri by all other parties, assuring people of the urgency to re-elect Narendra Modi and help achieve a ‘Viksit Bharat’ by 2047, before zooming off to his next meeting. He has maintained a studied silence on the ‘accidental’ killing of the farmers in 2021. Will his silence, however, be effective enough to push the issue to the backburner?

Farmers have clearly not forgotten the killings. A poster doing the rounds of the region, ostensibly issued by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), calls upon people to expose the BJP and punish the party for insulting farmers and women by fielding Teni from Kheri, Karan Bhushan Singh from Kaiserganj and Prajwal Revanna from Hassan in Karnataka. The poster carries photographs of Teni, Revanna and Brij Bhushan.

Brij Bhushan, of course, landed in the eye of a storm when several women wrestlers accused him of molestation and making sexual advances, taking advantage of his position as MP and president of the Wrestling Federation of India. Despite a prolonged agitation by some of India's best wrestlers and preliminary inquiries suggesting his culpability, the BJP refused to suspend him from the party. A Delhi court last week finally framed charges against him, but not before the BJP had declared his son as its nominee from Kaiserganj.

The year-long agitation led by farmers from Punjab and Haryana in 2021 centered around three contentious farm laws, a legal guarantee of minimum support price for crops, and the demand to drop Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ from the Union cabinet. The farmers mowed down in Kheri by Mishra’s son were returning from a protest meet.

However, the government is yet to take any decision on a legal guarantee of MSP and has retained Teni in the cabinet, albeit Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to withdraw the farm laws to avoid electoral reverses in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2022.

Hardcore BJP supporters, points out journalist and commentator Bhavesh Srivastava, like such ‘tough’ decisions, which explains why the party was emboldened to field Teni for the third time, as well as Brij Bhushan Singh’s son as a debutant from Kaiserganj, relying on the father to flex his muscles and ensure the party’s victory in several neighbouring constituencies.

Ashish Mittal, a member of the SKM’s central coordination committee, accuses the BJP of both harbouring and encouraging criminal elements in order to remain in power. Alleging that criminal elements now determine decisions by the BJP, he has called upon people to teach the party a lesson.

Mittal also accuses Teni of masterminding the killing of the four farmers and a local reporter in Kheri in 2021. The nominations for both Teni and Karan Bhushan, he says, show the weaknesses of the BJP's principles and its surrender to criminal elements. He also mentions the sexual assault cases against Revanna, and claims the BJP’s silence on the scandal is insulting to women.   

The prime minister has forfeited the right to seek the support of farmers in this election, says Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha Uttar Pradesh unit president Mukut Singh. He is yet to meet any farmers' delegation, and even during their historic year-long protest, never invited them for a dialogue. His authoritarian ways of functioning, Singh adds, has become clearer in the last 10 years. The BJP and the RSS should have focused on real issues like privatisation of the public sector, unemployment, labour codes, and the crisis in agriculture, rather than take recourse to divisive issues.

“What kind of Ram Rajya finds such rampant poverty among people, growing inequality, and corporatisation and centralisation of resources?” asks fuming farm leader P. Krishna. While as many as 58.57 per cent of Indians, by the government’s own admission, are forced to survive on free food grains, the wealthiest one per cent of the population has cornered 40 per cent of the nation’s wealth, he points out. 

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