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Jaspreet Oberoi: The Curious Case Of Sanyukt Samaj Morcha And Punjab's New Political Landscape
While entering the political arena may seem like an obvious choice and a decision bound to produce favorable results for the newly formed SSM, there are some very important caveats and obstacles
January 3, 2022 | 5 min. read | Opinion
On December 25, a very important meeting concluded in Chandigarh. Decisions were made that will have serious implications on Punjab’s future, political and otherwise.
22 farm unions, all of which are a part of the 32 member Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a non-political front that spearheaded the year-long farmers’ agitation, decided to float their own political outfit and announced that they will contest all 117 seats in the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections.
The new party has been named Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) and one of the most prominent faces of the farmers’ protest, Balbir Singh Rajewal, was declared as the face of it. When asked why this step was taken, the SSM leaders remarked, “this was a demand of the people of the state, who said that we had emerged victorious in the farmers’ agitation and should fight on the political front also.”
It is a decision worth its weight because the ever-powerful duo of Modi-Shah has only been defeated thrice in 2021. Once, by Mamata’s TMC in West Bengal, then again by COVID, and lastly by the persistence and resolve of the farmers led by SKM.
While hundreds of thousands of protestors camped at the protest sites, millions of others supported them from their homes, mostly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and UP. When the farmers returned to their homes in Punjab, victorious after the repeal of the laws, the welcome they received from the general public easily surpassed the fervor and enthusiasm found in the rallies of existing political parties.
The leaders of the 22 farmer unions have all the reasons to believe that the trust people put in them to fight against the central government can easily be translated to votes in the upcoming elections.
While it may seem an obvious choice and a decision bound to produce favorable results for the SSM, there are some very important caveats and obstacles.
To begin with, the cohesive powerful front that garnered the support of the general populace and forced the central government to bow down stands divided on this decision.
After SSM’s announcement, the original body, SKM was quick to issue a clarification that it has no affiliation with the new political party. One of the SKM’s leaders pointed out that they will neither support nor oppose SSM and that most of the Morcha’s member organizations were not in favor of contesting elections. It is noteworthy that one of those 32 is the largest farmer union, BKU (Ugrahan). Also, Tikait, one of the key faces of the Farmers’ Protest, declared that SKM will have a meeting on January 15 and decide the fate of the 22 organizations which went against SKM policy by jumping into the political fray.
Next, it should be noted that because SKM did not have any political affiliation, the support it received during the protests was nonpartisan, or to be precise, cross-party.
The three major political parties of Punjab - Congress, AAP, and Akali Dal were all opposed to the farm laws and thus their supporters and the voter base were uninhibited in standing together with the SKM.
It is not unimaginable to think that had it been known that an offshoot of SKM will soon plunge into the political arena, there would have been strong apprehensions amongst the loyalists of those three parties in lending the unconditional support to SKM that they otherwise did.
Also, farmers and their supporters have not forgotten that the protest is still on, and stands only temporarily suspended. It has not been called off yet. There are multiple demands beyond the repeal of the laws which still have not been met by the Modi government and the farmers were expecting SKM to continue putting pressure on the government for those. These farmers are bound to feel that the launching of the new political front is a distraction from that goal and that it could have been avoided.
Lastly, at the surface level, the support and zeal that the general population of Punjab lent to the farmers' movement seemed like a big monolith but it was not. It is actually an achievement that the protest stayed alive and was not skittled due to infighting because, from the very first day of the protest, it was clear that everybody was there asking for the same thing, but the reasons for their demands were varied.
While some were there only to get the laws repealed, for others taking down Modi was more important. For some, it was an opportunity to also showcase the strength and resolve of the Sikh community, and for others, it was also about Punjab’s self-determination. It is natural that all of these groups can not be expected to vote cohesively and vehemently in the favor of SSM in the upcoming elections.
In spite of all the factors mentioned above, SSM is poised to garner enough votes to disrupt the status quo, and out of the total 117 assembly seats of Punjab, they are bound to impact the electoral fortunes of the traditional parties in almost 77 seats or so.
The launch of SSM has made Punjab’s elections a legitimate five-way contest.
The party that seems to be at the biggest disadvantage because of the SSM announcement is AAP. They both will be claiming to be the true third front vote, and secondly, both of them have common geographical strongholds. Areas of the Malwa region, like Sangrur, Barnala, Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot, and Moga where AAP has repeatedly performed well (after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections) are the same pockets where farm groups have a large base.
For the same reasons, the party that stands to gain the most from a pre-poll alliance with SSM is also AAP, though the prospects of it have started to fade. AAP has already declared candidates for 96 out of the total 117 assembly seats. And, many of those within SSM are not interested in creating an alliance.
Regardless, it is a given that SSM will eat into the anti-BJP vote, in all the seats it would contest, thus the victims of this political move will undoubtedly be AAP, Congress, and Akali Dal.
Ironically enough, BJP, the party that fought tooth and nail against the farmers for more than a year, and is single-handedly responsible for the death of hundreds of protestors, stands to gain from their nemeses jumping into the arena against them.
Jaspreet Oberoi was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @ijasoberoi.
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