New Delhi: The large number of farmers from Punjab and Haryana looking to enter the national capital, as part of their ‘Dilli Chalo’ march against the new farm laws, are making BJP leaders in both states anxious.
The real anxiety is in Punjab, where the party is looking to make inroads before the 2022 assembly elections, especially since it has broken off its decades-long ties with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Punjab BJP leaders have now urged Home Minister Amit Shah and party president J.P. Nadda to proactively approach the farmers and break the deadlock. They have also made another suggestion — a crackdown on Punjabi singers they allege are propping up the protests and disparaging the party.
Punjab BJP vice-president Sukhwant Singh told ThePrint that there should be an investigation over whether the Punjabi singers are “receiving outside funds” to take part in the protests.
“Since Punjab has seen a separatist movement, we should be alert,” he said. “Being a border state we have to determine who is financing these actors and singers to take part in the agitation.”
On Friday, hundreds of farmers who are on the way to Delhi were stopped by police using water cannons and tear gas shells.
The BJP is observing the events carefully and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has invited the farmers for talks on 3 December. But Punjab BJP leaders are concerned by the fallout of the farmers agitation if it is not resolved amicably quickly.
“We have apprised our central leaders about the situation in Punjab. The Congress and the Akali Dal are behind the protest,” Punjab BJP president Ashwani Sharma said. “They are fuelling the protests for political gain. We want an early resolution to the crisis. We have requested the central leadership to intervene and adopt a proactive approach to break the deadlock as soon as possible.”
‘A proactive approach required’
Punjab is one of key states where the BJP is planning to expand the organisation. The agitation has dented the party’s image, especially as the Congress and the Akali Dal are backing the 31 protesting farmer organisations.
“We had requested central leaders a week ago to immediately intervene. We should have had another round of talks around 22 November after the breakdown of the 13 November talks. This was before the farmers began marching to Delhi,” former BJP Punjab minister Manoranjan Kalia told ThePrint.
“We have also requested the agriculture ministry to work more proactively and end the deadlock,” the former minister added. “It will take time to resolve the issue but at least bring the farmers to the table. Engage with them.”
On 13 November, farmer delegations had met Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Som Prakash, the junior minister in the Ministry of Commerce & Industries. The talks failed to break the impasse as the farmers persisted on their demand that the Modi government roll back the three farm laws it passed in the monsoon session of Parliament.
BJP leaders say the first goof up came on 14 October, when farmer unions reached Delhi for a meeting. “Agriculture Minister Tomar sent his Secretary Sanjay Aggrawal to meet them,” said a national BJP leader. “This miffed them and they doubted the intentions of the government.”
Put restrictions on Punjabi singers & actor
Punjab BJP leaders have also suggested cracking down on singers and actors who have taken part in the protests as they say, this will fizzle out the agitation.
A numbers of actors and singers have lent their support to the farmers. Actor Deep Sidhu, who was once an associate of BJP MP Sunny Deol, participated in a protest at Batala last week. He was joined by actor and singer Ammy Virk and singers Ranjit Bawa and Resham Singh Anmol.
Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala had organised a huge protest at Mansa in September in favour of the farmers. Singer Harbhajan Mann, who once had a brief stint in the Akali Dal, has also taken part in the protests to show solidarity with the agitating farmers.
“Many of the singers are being financed through Canada; many are using anti-Indian sentiments in their protest songs,” said a state BJP leader. “Many are fuelling Sikh sentiment to create animosity in society, which can end peace in Punjab. That is why we have requested action against the singers and actors.”
The state leader was part of the delegation that briefed the central BJP leadership of the situation.
Sikh vs Hindu narrative being created
State BJP leaders are also alleging that a few farmer unions are painting the agitation as a Sikh versus Hindu fight. They also fear a backlash from Sikh groups in the near future.
The state leaders fear the party will lose out big time in Punjab as the Akali Dal is consolidating its position by backing the farmers protests. It had also aggressively postured over Punjabi being removed as an official language in Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress too has backed the farmers protests to keep its support intact.
A second state BJP leader said that the Centre’s hesitation to allow goods trains into the state has angered the farmers. “There is sense among farmers that the Centre has punished the Punjab farmer economically — they did not get urea during sowing season and the Punjab government could not procure 60,000 gunny bags to lift paddy due to the blockade of trains,” the leader said.
“Punjab was also not able to send 40 lakh metric tonne of rice to Bihar for PDS distribution. Overall, Punjab suffered a loss of over Rs 30,000 crore in the last two months. This can be used against the BJP even though it is the farmer agitation that has caused most of the losses.”
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