Chandigarh: The latest round of negotiations between agitating farmers and the central government Friday lasted barely an hour-and-a-half, ending almost abruptly after the latter made it clear that they will not repeal the three farm laws.
This was a marked contrast to earlier talks that lasted for several hours and where the government seemed more pliable to farmers’ demands. Now, speculations are rife about the reason behind the Modi government’s hardening stance and the role of two BJP leaders from Punjab — Surjit Jyani and Harjit Singh Grewal.
Jyani, a former cabinet minister, and Grewal, former chairman of the Punjab Khadi Board, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday and Home Minister Amit Shah Thursday, just ahead of the eighth round of talks with the farmers.
Jyani is also the head of the eight-member coordination committee between BJP leaders and farmer unions, while Grewal is a member of the committee.
Both leaders have been extremely critical of the farmers’ protests.
Following his meeting with the PM, Jyani had lashed out at the “comrades” heading the agitation.
The former cabinet minister questioned the leadership of farmer unions and said that there was no single leader the Modi government could negotiate with. “Among these 40 leaders we don’t even know whom to talk to. None of them takes a decision. They keep asking the other person.”
“My grandfather used to say that wherever you see a red flag on a mill or factory, it will never function again,” Jyani told ThePrint.
He added: “The farmer union leaders push the farmers into an agitation by lying to them that their lands will be taken away from them. They also know that this is not the truth. They are befooling the protestors.”
Grewal, after meeting the PM, had said that “maoists” had entered the farmers’ protests and they were not allowing a resolution of the protests.
On Sunday, farmer unions leading the agitation in Delhi called for a “complete boycott” of the two leaders in Punjab.
“These two leaders should be shown black flags wherever they go. Outside their houses there should be a build up of an environment that is unwelcoming and hostile. They should be socially boycotted,” said Dr Darshan Pal, convenor of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee.
‘Tasked to divide’
Some farmer leaders are of the view that Jyani and Grewal have been deployed to weaken their resolve.
“The government is using a multi-pronged strategy to create divisions in this movement. The manner in which the Friday meeting was conducted was to send out a message of hopelessness to the farmer unions and the protestors. It was an attempt to create a general environment of disenchantment leading to a possible weakening of resolve,” Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), told ThePrint.
He added: “In my opinion Jyani and Grewal have been tasked to divide the leadership. In order to show the union leaders that they are calling the shots with BJP’s top leadership, they made a big show of meeting with the prime minister and home minister. They are doing this to gain credibility and importance which they otherwise lack.”
Some other leaders are not so convinced and believe that Jyani and Grewal pose no threat to the movement, calling them “small inconsequential fries”.
“There is no doubt that the government is trying its best to create a situation that will discredit the movement. They are trying to create a schism wherever possible. But who is Jyani and who is Grewal? They are failed leaders who don’t have any following in Punjab or have any say anywhere. They are playing a dubious role and that is it,” Balbir Singh Rajewal, president, BKU (Rajewal), told The Print.
“I have already announced from the stage that the protesters have to be extremely careful and guarded, maintaining discipline. There are men probably hired to hijack the movement, give it a different colour and direction and ultimately fail it,” he added.
However, Jyani told ThePrint: “We are not trying to fail the agitation. We are only speaking the truth. It is an agitation that is based on falsehood and is rudderless. We are not afraid of being boycotted. But these are not democratic ways of protesting,”
Who are Surjit Jyani and Harjit Singh Grewal?
Surjit Jyani, who belongs to the city Fazilka, has had a long association with the BJP. A former two-time cabinet minister, he has represented his constituency thrice in the state assembly. He was the state’s minister of forests from 2007-2012 and later, the minister of health from 2012-2017.
However, Jyani is perhaps best known for his bizarre comment that alcohol was not a harmful intoxicant in 2015, when he was health minister.
His statement was a cause of much embarrassment for the then Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, which was already battling allegations of an increase in drug addiction in Punjab.
One of the few rural faces in the BJP, Jyani initially supported the farmers in October, even joining some protests.
“We must listen to what the farmers are saying but the party leadership is not ready to listen. If we have come out with some laws and the farmers are calling them ‘kala kanoon’ (black laws) then we have to convince them or bring something better for them. But the central leadership is not listening,” he had told The Indian Express.
However, as is evident, his stance changed soon after. According to Jyani, “I was never against the acts. I only said that the BJP leadership should listen to the agitating farmers and resolve any apprehensions that they have about the acts.”
Grewal, in contrast, was a student leader and has been the Sikh face of the RSS in Punjab for several years now, having joined the organisation in 1990.
“Joining the BJP was just the next step,” he told ThePrint.
He is currently the vice-president of BJP Punjab and had unsuccessfully contested elections in 2017 from Rajpura.
In the past few months, Grewal has made several caustic remarks about the protesting farmers, making him rather unpopular.
In November, he courted controversy after he made uncharitable remarks about the Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh. He apologised for his remarks later.
“I genuinely wanted the issues between the farmers and the government to be resolved and I tried my best but the farmer leaders are not ready to listen anymore. I have been working for the cause of the farmers for the past 10 years,” he said.
“I am not anti-farmer but I have been painted as if I am the villain of the piece. I am committed to my party and it is my duty to put forth their view in as clear terms as possible to the other party,” Grewal told ThePrint.
While he did not disclose anything about his meeting with the PM and Home Minister, Grewal said that both of them were aware of the situation in the state.