BJP blames rivals as its candidates face heat from protesting farmers

Angry farmers in Punjab and Haryana are confronting BJP candidates, leading to disruptions in the party’s campaign at many places. While the Haryana BJP plays down the issue, its Punjab counterpart has taken it up with the state’s chief electoral officer (CEO), writes Rajesh Moudgil

Going is getting rough for the BJP during this general elections in Punjab and Haryana with there being farmers’ protest every now and then, during its candidates’ campaigning; last week only, while well-known sufi singer Hans Raj Hans saw yet another protest in his Faridkot constituency, police thwarted an attempt by a group of protesters – claiming to be farmers – to disrupt Preneet Kaur’s campaign in Punjab’s Patiala seat. These two seats were among several in Punjab to witness such protests.

In Haryana, a group of farmers allegedly manhandled supporters of Naina Chautala, a candidate of BJP’s former ally Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), during her campaign in Hisar Lok Sabha constituency, a few days ago. The JJP got a police case registered against unknown persons and the party top leaders as well as BJP’s senior leaders have condemned the incident.

It was not the first time that BJP or JJP leaders saw such protests in Haryana. There have been some earlier instances also when some groups of farmers or villagers staged protests against them, especially in Rohtak, Sonepat, Jind, Hisar, Sirsa and Fatehabad. At some places, the BJP candidates saw banners put up asking them not to come to them this election time.

Even though, former chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar opted to downplay some of such protests as acts of “some crazy people’’ who just wanted to have their say to express their authority, on other occasions other senior party leaders held that these were the acts of some people misguided by the rival political parties.

Their reactions seemed to have an adverse impact. The BJP’s candidate from Sirsa, Ashok Tanwar faced farmers’ protest the next day though the police thwarted the showdown.

Earlier in the month of April, JJP’s top leaders including former deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala, his mother Naina Chautala and even JJP supremo and Dushyant’s father Ajay Chautala too had faced embarrassing situations.

The BJP’s candidate from Rohtak, Arvind Sharma, and Hisar candidate Ranjit Chautala had also faced farmers ire who held that it was the state government which had approved of the state authorities action against farmers for their “Delhi Chalo march’’ since February this year. The farmers also asked Centre’s response to their demand for minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.

The JJP leaders held that some “outsiders’’ were involved in these protests.

Even though several of the BJP candidates faced protests by the farmers in Punjab, its Faridkot candidate Hans Raj Hans and Gurdaspur candidate Dinesh Babbu were among the ones who faced such protests repeatedly. Farmers’ plight was the same: why were teargas shells rained on the protesting farmers at Shambhu border and why “force’’ was used against farmers who wanted to march towards Delhi since February this year.

However, in the recent incident, the farmers also tried to stage a protest right around the Moti Bagh Palace – the official residence of former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh in Patiala, where his wife Preneet Kaur, is BJP candidate, though the police thwarted the same. What was surprising was that Capt Amarinder Singh has been conspicuously silent so far on the issue.

Punjab BJP raises red flag

The BJP leadership in Punjab, however, decided to raise a red flag against such protests and submitted a complaint with the chief electoral officer (CEO) apprehending a well-calibrated “sponsored’’ denial of the right of BJP candidates to campaign in the state.

Led by BJP state president Sunil Jakhar, a party delegation met the CEO Sibin C, alleging in its complaint that the party apprehended a well-calibrated “sponsored’’ denial of the right of BJP candidates to campaign in Punjab in the backdrop of deteriorating law and order situation under the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government led by Bhagwant Mann.

The BJP delegation held that it was the responsibility of the Punjab electoral office, government and police to ensure that the BJP candidates had unhindered access to every part of the state to exert their democratic right to campaign and connect with the people. The BJP leaders held that, however, dozens of incidents in the recent past and the latest incident in Patiala, where a farmer died falling on his own on the road during the campaign of BJP candidate Preneet Kaur, presented a picture in contrast of conspiracy that needs immediate attention.

Stating that the BJP had always stood for the rights of farmers, the party leaders said that such unchecked protests against BJP candidates, who were being forced to withdraw from campaigns in parts of Punjab, could lead to unforeseeable consequences and untoward incidents of violence and clashes.

The possibility of anti-social elements sneaking in under the garb of farmer protests and creating havoc could not be ruled out, the party leaders held.

They also held that apprehension of collusion of opposition political parties including the AAP, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress in scripting such disruptions for BJP candidates loomed large. The party delegations held that the state machinery could not act as a conduit to facilitate such obstructions and threat to BJP candidates and its supporters.

The recent FIR registered against a BJP leader following the death of a farmer in Patiala during the obstruction caused to Preneet Kaur while she was campaigning is malafide and politically motivated and it needs to be cancelled with immediate effect, the party held.

While stating that the protests undertaken by farmers are a legitimate tool, the BJP leaders held that there was a need for this right to be exercised with restraint and caution given that candidates too have their right to campaign and have access to villages. The BJP candidates could not be held to ransom at the patronage and behest of the ruling dispensation, the delegation said.

CEO seeks report from DGP

Taking a note of the BJP representation, the CEO Sibin C has sought a fact-finding and an action taken report from the Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) in this context.

However, the Punjab farmers’ fora too have raised their issues with the CEO and sought to ensure their (citizens’) right to question the candidates during the election campaigns. A delegation of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) has also submitted a memorandum to the CEO demanding that political leaders, candidates and the security forces should not be high-handed towards citizens who question them during poll time.

Back home, even though the saffron party seems to have reacted to what it has termed as “sponsored protests’’, nothing can be said with certainty what the coming days have in store for its candidates. While Haryana goes to poll on May 25, in Punjab voting will be held on June 1.