Koi sarkar nahin changi aam lokan layi [no government is good for the people],” says 70-year-old Gurmeet Kaur. She is sitting under a shed with a group of women who have come to attend the Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat (farmers and workers mega village assembly) in Jagraon from Bassian village, Ludhiana.

“[Prime Minister] Modi had promised jobs, but no promises were fulfilled. [So now] Ehna da koi hakk nahin sade ethe aa ke votaan mangan da [they do not have the right to come here and ask for votes],” she says. Gurmeet Kaur is associated with the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU Ekta) Dakaunda, and tells PARI she had voted for Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In Jagraon’s new grain market, where the Mahapanchayat was held on May 21, close to 50,000 people gathered from all across the state under the banners of farm unions, trade unions, anganwadi workers’ unions and medical practitioners’ unions are here to show their strength and mark their protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). ‘BJP harao , Corporate bhajao , desh bachao [Defeat BJP. Chase away the corporates. Save the country],’ said the banner on the stage.

“We will show black flags to Modi in Punjab,” says Harinder Singh Lakhowal, president of the Lakhowal chapter of BKU who is present at the Mahapanchayat.

Punjab goes to polls on June 1, 2024 and Narendra Modi is all set to begin his campaign in the state where farmers have been protesting the Centre’s apathy to their demands: guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, a complete waiver of debts, justice for those in the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre, a pension scheme for farmers and labourers, and compensation for those martyred in the 2020-2021 protest. Read: PARI’s full coverage of the farm protests

PHOTO • Courtesy: Sanyukt Kisan Morcha Punjab
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: A Samyukt Kisan Morcha poster at the Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat says ' BJP Harao, Corporate Bhajao, Desh Bachao.' Right: Members of Anganwadi Workers' Union from Sudhar block, Ludhiana, arriving at the venue in Jagraon

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Gurmeet Kaur is among the women who have come from Bassian village, Ludhiana. Modi has not fulfilled his promise to provide jobs and has no right to come and ask for votes, she says. Right: Farmer leaders pay tribute to the 750 farmers who lost their lives during the protests of 2020-21 against the three farm laws. They also paid tribute to Shubhkaran Singh, who lost his life after suffering a head injury during clashes between the farmers and police in February, 2024

Farmer leaders, before addressing the crowd, paid tribute to the 750 farmers who lost their lives during the protests of 2020-21. A special mention was made of the 21-year-old farmer Shubhkaran Singh who died in February this year after he suffered from a fatal head injury during clashes between the farmers and police in Dhabi Gujran in Patiala during their peaceful march to Delhi. Also read: ‘If we are not safe in our own state, where will we be?’

A few months ago, in February 2024, farmers were barred from entering Delhi where they were planning to raise their unfulfilled demands – the peaceful protestors were met with barricades, water cannons and tear gas shells.

Now, they don’t want the BJP to campaign in their villages.

Boota Singh, president of BKU Shadipur, also expressed the same sentiment. “Why is Modi coming to Punjab now?” he asks, “we will not let him campaign,”

At the call of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, people across Punjab have barred BJP leaders and candidates from entering and campaigning in their villages.

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Dr. Darshan Pal, president of Krantikari Kisan Union, with members of the organisation . Right : Nearly 50,000 people attended the Mahapanchayat on May 21, 2024

Hans Raj Hans and Ravneet Bittu, BJP candidates from Faridkot and Ludhiana respectively, were mentioned by name during the speeches of farmer leaders in Jagraon.

“Leaders ask for votes with folded hands. Then these people say they will deal with us later. Who are they to deal with us?” says Lakhowal during his speech. A video clip of Hans had gone viral on social media in which he said that those opposing him would be dealt with after the polling on June 1. The Election Commission of India has issued a notice to Hans in connection with poll code violation based on a complaint made by SKM.

Chetann Singh Chaudhary, 74, has come from Sangatpura village in Ludhiana. “Earlier we used to vote for whomever our parents and grandparents voted for,” he says. “Now things have changed. The objective now is to oust Modi.”

He is a member of BKU Rajewal. His father, Babu Singh, was a freedom fighter, he tells PARI, showing us the card issued by the Government of Punjab. Babu Singh was a soldier in the Indian National Army (INA). “They do not think about the good of the farmers,” Chetann says, referring to the BJP.

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Members of Kirti Kisan Union arriving at the grain market where the Mahapanchayat was held. Right: Nachhatar Singh Grewal (left) and Chetann Singh Chaudhary (right) are farmers from Ludhiana. 'Earlier we used to vote for whomever our parents and grandparents voted for. Now things have changed. The objective now is to oust Modi,' says Chaudhary, whose father was a freedom fighter and served in the Indian National Army (INA)

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Medical Practitioners' Union, who were also a part of the 2020-21 protests, provided medical facilities at the venue. Right: Nearly a dozen bookstalls were set up at the venue. Pamphlets on the General Elections 2024 were distributed among the attendees

As leaders continue their speeches, slogans ring out all around the grain market. “ Kisan mazdoor ekta zindabad [Long live farmers and workers’ unity!],’ they chant, and, “Narendra Modi go back!”

Around the site of the Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat, langars (free food stalls) have been set up by units of farmers’ unions from nearby villages. There are also medical camps being run by the Medical Practitioners Union, which supported farmers at the Tikri border for 13 months during the 2020-21 protests. Members of Inqlabi Kendar and Jamhoori Adhikar Sabha, Punjab are distributing pamphlets on the elections and issues concerning the general public such as education, employment, health and religion, caste and gender among others.

While the SKM is asking people to defeat the BJP, it is not giving a call to vote for any specific party. Rajinder Deepsinghwala, a leader of the Kirti Kisan Union says, “vote for the person who can defeat the BJP candidate.”

As the Mahapanchayat ends, the message is clear – oppose BJP during campaigns, defeat BJP in elections. “No one will resort to violence, we will protest peacefully,” Lakhowal says while announcing the decision.
Arshdeep Arshi

Arshdeep Arshi is an independent journalist and translator based in Chandigarh and has worked with News18 Punjab and Hindustan Times. She has an M Phil in English literature from Punjabi University, Patiala.

Other stories by Arshdeep Arshi
Editor : Sarbajaya Bhattacharya

Sarbajaya Bhattacharya is a Senior Assistant Editor at PARI. She is an experienced Bangla translator. Based in Kolkata, she is interested in the history of the city and travel literature.

Other stories by Sarbajaya Bhattacharya