Chandigarh: Political parties in Punjab, especially those in Opposition, are in a quandary following an appeal by farmers’ unions to suspend campaigns for the upcoming state elections, till the polls are announced.
Both the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — the main Opposition parties in the state — have voiced support for the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the controversial farm laws introduced by the Modi government in September 2020, but are reluctant to give in to the appeal made by the famers’ unions on poll campaigning.
While a formal decision on the matter is yet to be taken, individual leaders have voiced objection to the appeal, calling it “unfair” and told ThePrint that the parties are unlikely to toe the union line.
Elections are scheduled to be held in Punjab in February next year — though the Election Commission is yet to make a formal announcement — and political parties are expected to intensify campaigning before the kharif harvest season next month.
Leaders of 32 farmers unions of Punjab held a meeting with representatives of political parties in Chandigarh Friday, during which the appeal to not hold campaigns till elections are announced was made. The reason for the appeal forwarded by the farmers union is that campaigning would jeopardise, or take attention away from, the agitation at the Delhi borders.
The farmers’ unions have, however, said that the Punjab government may hold official functions, with limited gatherings. “Any political party that continues to campaign will be considered to be an anti-farmers party,” Balbir Singh Rajewal, a senior leader of the farmers’ agitation, had said Friday, addressing a press conference after the meeting with political parties.
‘Have to cater to other sections of society’
Senior SAD leaders told ThePrint Sunday that the party is unlikely to give in to the farmers’ demand.
“We will hold a protest march in Delhi on 17 September, in support of the cause of the farmers, after which a decision regarding campaigning will be taken. The farmer’s decision cannot be complied with. We are holding a process of consultation with our workers before resuming campaigning,” Dr Daljit Singh Cheema, senior SAD leader told ThePrint Sunday.
Last week SAD had put on hold its “gall Punjab di” rallies, scheduled to be held across 100 constituencies, for six days. The move had been announced by party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, amid incidents of farmer’s protests outside his rallies.
Though SAD had alleged that the protestors were not farmers, but AAP and Congress workers posing as farmers, it had announced the suspension of the campaign to “ensure peace” is maintained in the state. The programme is yet to be revived.
“It’s election time and all political parties have the right to compete with one another. We told the farmers’ leaders that the law and order situation is worsening not because of our campaigning, but because they are projecting that their protest is at war with other electoral democratic processes. They should be supplementing their protest, joining hands with all anti-BJP forces and we have offered all the help,” said Cheema, who had been among the leaders who had attended Friday’s meeting with the farmers’ union.
He added: “Secondly, by announcing these regressive orders, they are limiting the farmer’s movement to Punjab alone. Isn’t that exactly what the Modi government has been saying all along? Thirdly, As a political party we have to cater to other sections of society including employees, factory workers, labourers too. And lastly, BJP, AAP and the Congress all are in power (at the Centre or in some state) and have their means of campaigning through official functions and advertisement campaigns. We are the only ones truly in Opposition and the only means we can reach the public is through public programmes and meetings. We are the worst affected (by this appeal).”
His concerns were echoed by fellow party member Prem Singh Chandumajra, who had also attended Friday’s meeting. Talking to ThePrint Sunday, Chandumajra pointed out that the farmers had raised no objection when the AAP had held a rally at Baghapurana in March this year or against a Congress rally in Khemkaran Thursday.
‘Not logical to keep AAP aside’
The AAP too is yet to take a formal call on the appeal made by the famers, but has voiced serious objections to it.
Aap leader Aman Arora, who had attended Friday’s meeting told ThePrint Sunday, that while the party had always stood by the farmers and will continue to do so in the future, it was imperative for them to reach out to the people through political programs.
“The Congress party has a government in Punjab, so it would continue its political activities by conducting government programmes. The Akalis would do it through the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. It would not be logical to keep the AAP aside,” Arora said.
He added: “It is unacceptable that the farmers have allowed the government to hold functions. And when they mean limited gatherings, what numbers are they allowing? In a village, for a political party in power, mustering even a hundred people is a large gathering. It is not fair.”
Meanwhile, leader of the Opposition and AAP member, Harpal Singh Cheema told The Print that the decision on how to continue with their campaign will be announced shortly. “We are holding deliberations at various levels,” he said.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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