Why farmers in Punjab and Haryana disallowed the BJP and others from campaigning

Narinder NANU / AFP / Getty Images
Elections 2024
31 May, 2024

In February 2024, thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other states marched to Delhi with several demands, including legal guarantees of a minimum support price and waivers of farm loans. The protest was led by the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha and Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political). The scene was reminiscent of November 2020, when a similar march took place, leading to historic months-long protests at Delhi’s borders that ultimately led to the Narendra Modi government rolling back three farm laws. Much like last time, the farmers were not allowed to enter Delhi this year. Many were stopped at the Shambhu and Khanauri border between Punjab and Haryana. Multiple entry points to Delhi were barricaded with barbed wires and spikes. When the farmers reached the Khanauri border in Haryana, on 13 February, the state police stopped them, and unleashed tear gas shells and lathis on them, brutally injuring several farmers. A similar crackdown followed in the next few days, in which Shubhkaran Singh, a 23-year-old was killed.

While the scale of this protest is far smaller than the 2020 one, the impact this violence has had across agrarian communities in the country is enormous. Images of the brutal beatings of farmers and pellet injuries on their bodies circulated online, as did reports of young men losing their eye sight to pellets. Shubhkaran’s death, in particular, moved farmers across the country—his ashes were divided into 21 urns and immersed in 19 states, including Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, by a number of farmers’ unions.

The anger is especially palpable across the influential Jutt Sikh and Jat communities of Punjab and Haryana. Farm leaders from both the states told me they were not letting any political party campaign for the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Their wrath was the most severe for the Bharatiya Janta Party, which is in power in the centre and in Haryana. “The BJP used the state machinery to oppress farmers,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, the president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta, in Sidhupur, told me. While disallowing candidates from entering their villages, the farmers ask them: “If you don’t allow us to come to Delhi, why should we let you come to our villages?” “Why was violence unleashed on farmers?” and “Why did Haryana police kill Shubhkaran Singh?”

The BJP appears to be rankled in Punjab, which votes on 1 June, the final phase of the election. Even as the party never had much currency in the state, the central government’s attitude towards the protesting farmers in 2020 appears to have further ruined its chances of making electoral gains. Apart from lathi charges and an unrelenting position on the farm laws for months, the BJP’s leaders also demonised the protests, which had a large participation of Sikhs, as having Khalistani elements. The farmers’ disillusionment with the party appears to have reached a tipping point with the Khanauri incident. As a result, the BJP won just two of the 117 seats in the 2022 state polls. Even in Haryana, which went to polls on 25 May, the BJP is also on the cusp of losing its majority.

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with more than 25 years of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.