By Vishal Gulati
Chandigarh, Dec 8 (IANS) The farmer agitation in Punjab is not politically influenced rather it has forced the political parties to board the same boat on farm laws, believe political observers.
The state’s three prominent political parties — the ruling Congress, the main opposition AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) — have been aggressively standing against the new laws that they believe will destroy livelihoods of the farmers, who constitute 70 per cent of the state’s population.
The lone warrior defending the laws is state’s BJP which has just two legislators in the 117-member state assembly.
Besides losing its political base in the state, the saffron party has been describing the laws historic and the stir a ‘conspiracy’ by political parties, civil society organisations and middlemen.
The ruling Congress led by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh sees an opportunity to strengthen its base in rural areas by standing solidly behind the farmers. He’s openly saying his government will fight the ‘anti-federal’ and ‘vicious’ farm laws tooth and nail through legislative, legal and other routes.
Asserting that he was not scared of the Enforcement Directorate or anyone else, Amarinder Singh has been slamming the state opposition parties for playing politics with the lives of the farmers to further their own interests.
The Centre must listen to the farmers and accept their demands, said the Chief Minister, lambasting all the key opposition players, right from Akali Dal’s Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and Harsimrat Kumar and Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal, for their flip-flops and for making a mockery of the fight of the farmers.
For the sake of Punjab, he called on Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi last week and told him the amendment Bills passed in Punjab Vidhan Sabha were the solution to breaking the deadlock over the farmers’ issue as they were the essence of the state’s future.
In a first in the country, the legislative assembly in Punjab on October 20 unanimously passed three Bills and the proposed electricity amendment Bill, formally rejecting the Centre’s agricultural laws.
The Bills were passed with a voice vote amidst the presence of SAD and AAP members.
Besides ensuring minimum support price (MSP), with punishment in case of sale and purchase in violation of the same, the legislations provide for prevention of hoarding and black-marketing of foodgrains.
However, both BJP members remained absent from the House during the special session of the Vidhan Sabha.
Expressing solidarity with the agitating farmers, SAD patron and five-time Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 93, has returned his Padma Vibhushan award in protest against “the betrayal of the farmers by the government”.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he asked him to ‘show magnanimity’ and immediately scrap the farm laws ‘as a first step’ towards the resolution of farmers’ demands.
“The scars of wounds already inflicted will take a long time to heal,” he said.
The veteran SAD leader, a former ally of the NDA, also demanded that “100 per cent procurement of farmers’ produce be purchased at minimum support price and it be made a statutory right of the farmer”.
The party has also cancelled its three-day programmes from December 12 to mark the start of the 100 year celebrations of the Akali Dal to ensure the ongoing farmer agitation does not suffer in any manner.
Joining the cause of the farmers, AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the Delhi-Haryana border not as a chief minister but as a ‘sevadar’ to take stock of the arrangements made by his government for agitating farmers.
Party’s Punjab state president and Lok Sabha MP Bhagwant Mann accused both the Congress and SAD of sabotaging the farmers’ movement.
“The Congress and SAD along with the BJP had been working on an agenda to derail the farmers’ movement from the very beginning in order to facilitate the corporate houses to have their way,” Mann said.
AAP has been saying Amarinder Singh and the BJP have ‘joined hands to make false allegations’ as the former is being controlled by Prime Minister Modi.
Interestingly, BJP former state cabinet minister Surjit Jyani, who triggered a ‘controversy’ by asking his party ‘to listen to the farmers’, now seems confident the issue of farmers is close to getting resolved amicably.
“Such issues are not resolved in one meeting. Five to six meetings are required. Now the sixth one is going to be held on December 9 and there will be a 100 per cent guarantee of resolving the issue. We will get good news at the onset of the meeting at 11 a.m. tomorrow,” Jyani, who is in-charge of the party’s eight-member panel for talking to farmers in Punjab, told the media.
Amid the farmers’ protests, a war of words between Amarinder Singh and Kejriwal has been going on over farm law notification.
For a man who had wasted no time in notifying one of the three Central farm laws and publicly declared himself to be helpless in the matter, Kejriwal’s claim of being a ‘sevadar’ of the farmers is simply ludicrous, said Amarinder Singh, ridiculing AAP leader’s latest move to go to the Singhu border to meet the protesting farmers.
“You did not even bother to convene a session of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha on the issue,” said Amarinder Singh in a scathing attack on the Delhi Chief Minister, whom he dubbed as nothing more than a master-twister who could stoop to any level to further his political interests.
Punjab has a Congress government since March 2017.
“While the farmers have been kept politicians at a safe distance, many of their unions have political affiliations, largely with Left parties. Only time will tell that which party will get a major gain from this agitation, a first of its kind since Punjab state was granted in 1966,” a political observer told IANS.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])