Chandigarh: On a day when state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu is slated to meet the high command after a long hiatus that began with his resignation, the party is on the boil again in Punjab, this time over the Modi government’s move to increase the Border Security Force’s (BSF’s) jurisdiction.
The union home ministry had Monday announced that the operational jurisdiction of the BSF, which falls under it, will increase from the current 15 km to 50 km in the border areas of Punjab, Assam and West Bengal.
The decision was categorically condemned by Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi who termed it as a direct attack on the federal structure of the country and demanded that it be immediately revoked.
I strongly condemn the GoI's unilateral decision to give additional powers to BSF within 50 KM belt running along the international borders, which is a direct attack on the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision.
— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) October 13, 2021
His predecessor Captain Amarinder Singh, however, responded by hailing the decision, saying that the enhanced presence of the BSF will make Punjab stronger. He added that the central armed forces should not be dragged into politics.
‘Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more & more weapons & drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence & powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics’: capt_amarinder 1/2
(File pic) pic.twitter.com/nu4DhAQnAz
— Raveen Thukral (@RT_Media_Capt) October 13, 2021
Amarinder, who was removed as chief minister of Punjab last month, has already made it clear that he will be leaving the Congress and is believed to be hobnobbing with the BJP before finalising his next course of action, which includes the possibility of him forming his own political outfit.
The home ministry declaration, meanwhile, has exposed more faultlines within the Punjab Congress.
Former state unit chief Sunil Jakhar slammed Channi for the move, tweeting that the chief minister may have “unwittingly managed to hand over half of Punjab to the central government.
“Be careful what you ask for ! Has @CHARANJITCHANNI unwittingly managed to hand over half of Punjab to the Central govt. 25000sq km (out of total 50,000sq km) has now been placed under BSF jurisdiction. Punjab Police stands castigated. Do we still want more autonomy to states?” he tweeted Wednesday.
Be careful what you ask for ! Has @CHARANJITCHANNI unwittingly managed to handover half of Punjab to Central govt. 25000sq km (out of total 50,000sq km) has now been placed under BSF jurisdiction. Punjab Police stands castigated. Do we still want more autonomy to States ? https://t.co/JlGB7G0Pnj
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) October 13, 2021
He raised more eyebrows Thursday, when he tweeted in praise of the BSF and that he backed Amarinder’s observation that central forces should be used as political tools.
We are proud of our security forces which are meant to secure our borders and protect India from foreign aggressors.Using them to to cover up the failures & to clean up the mess created by leaders & govts is very alarming. It not only denigrates our brave forces but also 1/2
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) October 14, 2021
Jakhar, who was tipped to be the chief minister of Punjab following Amarinder’s removal, was let down by the party high command at the last minute. He is believed to be upset with both Navjot Sidhu and the Congress brass.
Of the others, Amritsar MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla welcomed the move, though he said the 50 km mark was “too much”.
“I think it would help in curbing drug menace. But the area is more than required. BSF jurisdiction should be limited to around 10 km. I am making this comment only from the perspective of drug smuggling,” Aujla reportedly said.
Sidhu’s close aide and cabinet minister Pargat Singh held a press conference Thursday and blamed Amarinder for the Modi government’s decision.
“Amarinder is doing BJP’s bidding and trying to polarize Punjab by generating fear and insecurity among the population,” he said. “With this move, the Government of India has taken over half of Punjab.”
The opposition Shiromani Akali Dal has also strongly objected to the move, calling it as the virtual declaration of emergency in the state. Party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal Thursday staged a protest in Chandigarh against the decision.
— Shiromani Akali Dal (@Akali_Dal_) October 13, 2021
Sidhu mum on issue, to meet high command today
Congress’ state party chief Navjot Sidhu, however, is yet to speak on the issue. He had put out an “interview” with his advisors on his social media platforms Wednesday but steered clear of the topic.
Much of what he said was a repetition of his earlier statements barring a carefully camouflaged attack on the chief minister regarding his plans to end illegal mining in the state. The chief minister had recently deliberated allowing landowners free access to sand, which Sidhu objected to in the Facebook interview.
Sidhu had been sulking ever since his resignation over the appointment of the Punjab DGP and the advocate general but seemed to have come around last week in the wake of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. The Punjab Congress had put up a united front in showing solidarity with the farmers.
Sidhu is expected to meet Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal and Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat Thursday to discuss changes in the party’s organisation structure, ahead of assembly elections next year.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.