Lakhimpur Kheri: Will Congress seize the moment?
The Congress ran an election campaign based on farm distress and the promise of farm loan waiver within 10 days of forming the government
At a time when the BJP felt that the ongoing agitation opposing the three farm bills passed by the Parliament in 2020 was losing its sheen particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court barring the union government from implementing it, the Lakhimpur incident in which about eight people were killed when the convoy of vehicles belonging to Union minister Ajay Mishra had run over the agitating farmers (in which the minister's son was alleged to be present) can prove to be a thorn in the path of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
If the opposition Congress party plays its cards properly and build upon the farmers' issue across UP till the run-up to the elections, this incident could damage the saffron party's poll prospects in UP just as it happened in Madhya Pradesh in 2017.
The only difference is that in case of MP Congress had about 15 months' time while in UP it hardly has three to four months-time. Soon after the Mandsaur violence in which six farmers lost their lives, Rahul Gandhi had taken the lead in targeting the BJP but here he seems to have jumped into action a little late.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has taken the lead from the Opposition camp in Uttar Pradesh. The UP government felt that her arrest could douse the situation, but it seems they have erred in their decision. After a flip-flop, they released her.
In another knee-jerk reaction, they tried to prevent Rahul Gandhi at Lucknow airport on Wednesday and when they decided to permit Rahul and four others to go to Lakhimpur, they said they should travel in police vehicles.
Well, no sane person would agree for such a suggestion. In such situations police cannot be trusted and there is every possibility that they may drive them to some guest house and keep them under detention.
Ajay Mishra was inducted into the Union cabinet in July as he was the only Brahmin face in poll-bound UP. Yogi was facing criticism that under his regime, the Brahmins were denied the privileges they used to enjoy in the past.
The induction of Ajay Mishra in the union cabinet and the State getting representation of about seven ministers had helped the party to get an opportunity that it does not ignore any community. The BJP felt that this may also help them in winning over the upper castes which could make their victory in the next assembly elections not so difficult.
There is a close resemblance to the incidents in MP and Lakhimpur. Both these states are predominantly agriculture-based States. In UP about 77 per cent of the people depend on agriculture.
The Congress ran an election campaign based on farm distress and the promise of farm loan waiver within 10 days of forming the government. Before the Mandsaur incident, the Congress was considered weak and divided but the promise of 'better days' for farmers helped the party to emerge as the champions of farmers.
It remains to be seen if the Congress can convert this issue to its advantage or not and what counter strategies the BJP would come up with. One thing that needs to be noted is that the Kheri Lok Sabha constituency under which Lakhimpur Assembly constituency falls is agriculture-based and has majority of Sikhs and Jats.
In 2012, the BJP which could win only one of the five assembly seats succeeded in winning all the five in 2017. This incident can build enough momentum for its campaign.