Friday, June 14, 2024

Election 2024: Punjab’s farmers debunk Modi’s ‘Vikas’ claims

A long queue of trolleys and tractors brought by protesting farmers at the Shambu border. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Alfiya Azeem Khan & Harman Kaur

The Prime Minister held a rally in Patiala on May 23 to support party candidate Preeneet Kaur and conducted two more rallies in the Jalandhar and Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituencies on May 24. Punjab will vote in the final phase of elections on June 1 for 13 Lok Sabha seats, in what has become a four-way contest. This follows the Shiromani Akali Dal, a traditional ally, parting ways with the BJP over the farm bills.

PM Modi’s visit to Punjab occurred as the SKM non-political movement marked 100 days of protest on May 22. Farmers organized large rallies at the Shambhu, Khanauri, and Dabwali borders in Punjab and Haryana, as well as the Rattanpur border in Rajasthan to commemorate this. Farmer unions from Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan gathered at the Punjab-Haryana border in Shambhu and marched towards the venue, only to be stopped at toll gates about 7 kilometres away.

Unaware or unconcerned about the prolonged anguish of farmers enduring over 100 days of protest, the Prime Minister recounted his government’s efforts for the community’s welfare with a somewhat stoic expression.

“We procured an unprecedented amount of foodgrain from this state, The MSP on foodgrain has surged 2.5 times. Every farmer has received Rs 30,000 under the PM Kisan Nidhi scheme,” Modi said.

Devinder Singh, a farmer from Majhi village in Sangrur, offered a contrasting narrative, said “Modi campaigned in Punjab, but I found no interest in it. The aspirations of Punjab diverge from the BJP’s policies. While other states may have embraced the BJP’s policies, Punjab seeks progress in education and agriculture. BJP is well known for winning based on religion.”

Reflecting on the rally and farmers’ access, he criticized the imposition of barricades, asserting the farmers’ constitutional right to protest and demand a guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP). “Punjab is vocal about their rights, and being in a democratic country, we just wanted a meeting with the prime minister to ensure a guaranteed MSP.,” he emphasized.

“In 2020, our voices were stifled on the way to Delhi. In 2024, regardless of the ruling government, we will continue our agitation until the demands are met.”, he vowed.

During the rally, Modi asserted that the NDA had eradicated terrorism, rescued 25 crore people from multidimensional poverty, and steered India’s progress towards a ‘Viksit Bharat’. However, Amarjeet Singh from Shefdipur village has been unemployed for half a decade, resorting to menial tasks for survival.

“The government merely flaunts advertisements in newspapers, yet no employment opportunities materialize, neither from the central or state government,” he said.

“Last time, I voted for Congress hoping to receive a smartphone, but I never received any. The Aam Aadmi Party pledged job creation this time, yet they too faltered.” When reflecting on Modi’s recent campaign efforts, he said, “I can not hope for Vikas from this government either”.

He further disclosed being offered fifty rupees and a meal to attend the rally at the polo ground, but he declined because he had no money for the taxi fare. 

While the Ram temple may not be a significant issue in Punjab, Modi targeted voters in Delhi and other areas set to vote in the sixth phase, urging them to support a government that brings Ram to the people. He accused the I.N.D.I alliance of being steeped in communalism, casteism, and dynastic politics. “It was the I.N.D.I alliance’s divisive politics that caused the partition of India and kept us away from the Kartarpur Sahib for 70 years,” he stated.

Sunita, a labourer from a village in Patiala originally from Uttar Pradesh, shared her disillusionment, saying that the Prime Minister’s campaign and empty promises were nothing new. She has “given up her hopes on any government” and believes that “Modi’s rally in Patiala is not going to bring any benefit.”

Most upper-class families she works for urge her to vote for the BJP because of the Ram Mandir. “Building the Ram Mandir has not benefited us and has only worsened things. I will vote for Congress,” she declared, highlighting her deep betrayal and frustration.

India witnessed over four lakh new COVID-19 cases for the fourth consecutive day, marking a staggering 4,03,738 fresh infections and escalating the total tally to 2,22,96,414. Within the past 24 hours, 3,86,44 individuals have recovered, but the grim toll of 4,092 lives lost underscores the severity of the crisis. Shockingly, the Civil Registration System (CRS) in Punjab has documented an alarming 47,571 “excess deaths” from April 2020 to May 2021, starkly contrasting the official figure of 14,450 COVID-19 fatalities for the same period.

Manjeet Kaur, hailing from Sheikhpura and belonging to the Dalit community, expressed her deep frustration with Modi’s campaign in Patiala. “I am urging people not to vote for Modi. I lost my close friend during COVID, and I blame the Modi government and their poor management skills,”. She further narrated the hardships endured by her son, trapped in the vicious cycle of menial labour despite his efforts. “If the government turns a deaf ear to the plight of its farmers, what will it do for us?” Modi’s promises of ‘acche din’ remain unfulfilled,” she said. 

Alfiya Azeem Khan is an undergraduate student in psychology and Sociology at Christ University, Delhi. She is a researcher and a writer with an interest in exclusivity and inclusivity, development and sustainability. Harman Kaur is an undergraduate student in psychology and Sociology at Christ University, Delhi. She is a researcher with an interest in caste, class and society. 

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