“Chaudhary Charan Singh ji cared for the small farmers. It is very important for the government to stand with them like a partner,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in 2021 in Uttar Pradesh at the height of farmers’ protests against the controversial farm laws. A month later, the laws were withdrawn.
Cut to February 2024, the farmer protests have returned to Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, a bugbear for the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha election.
In what is being seen in political corridors as an attempt to placate the farming community, the government on Friday conferred Bharat Ratna to two personalities who have championed the cause of farmers and agriculture – former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh and ‘Father of Green Revolution’ MS Swaminathan.
While the farmer community may not be a direct political force, it has the ability to influence the voting patterns in agricultural states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana.
In fact, the governments led by Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to pay a heavy price for not tackling farm distress.
The BJP got a taste of it after it lost one of its oldest allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and was routed in the 2022 Punjab election. The development came as thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh camped near Delhi’s borders for nearly a year to protest against the farm laws and their demand for a legal guarantee on minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.
Chaudhary Charan Singh, who also served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh twice, is widely hailed as a “champion of farmers” for his contribution towards the upliftment of farmers through land reforms.
Singh, who held several ministries during his tenure, is credited for bringing radical land reform measures and bringing uniformity in the farm sector. One of his biggest achievements was bringing out farmers from the clutches of moneylenders, which reduced suicide rates in the community. These reforms were implemented through the Debt Redemption Bill, the Land Holding Act, and the Zamindari Abolition Act.
Besides, Singh was also one of the most influential politicians from the Jat community, which has been miffed with the ruling BJP over its handling of the wrestlers’ protest against BJP’s Brij Bhushan Singh over sexual harassment charges. The Jat community was also at the forefront of the farm agitation.
The government’s Bharat Ratna to Charan Singh, who remains Uttar Pradesh’s only Jat Chief Minister, is also being seen as a bid to win over a section of the community.
The Jat community has the potential to influence results in nearly 40 Lok Sabha seats across UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi.
BHARAT RATNA FOR MS SWAMINATHAN
MS Swaminathan was also a key figure who worked closely with farmers and his groundbreaking work in developing high-yielding varieties of rice in the mid-1960s helped in combating hunger and poverty.
On Friday, PM Modi said the Bharat Ratna was conferred on Swaminathan in recognition of his monumental contributions to agriculture and farmers’ welfare.
In fact, one of the key demands of the farmers during their protest was the implementation of the MS Swaminathan committee reports that were submitted by the agricultural scientist to the government between 2004-2006.
The reports made several recommendations on land and irrigation reforms, food security and prevention of suicides by farmers, apart from social security entitlements.