Chandigarh: Protesting farmers are playing into the hands of the Narendra Modi government by not allowing the passage of passenger trains into the state, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President Sunil Jakhar told ThePrint Tuesday.
“While Centre may have invited farmers for talks, the farmers are playing into the hands of the Centre by not allowing passage of passenger trains. Because the Centre is not affected by stoppage of trains in any way and neither do they care about Punjab or its farmers,” said the former Gurdaspur MP.
His comments come amid the continued suspension of trains to Punjab by the central government and the ongoing protest by the state’s farmers against the three contentious farm legislations passed by the Centre in September.
Since 1 October, farmers protesting against the farm laws launched an indefinite ‘rail roko’ agitation.
While most of the farmer bodies called off their agitation on 23 October and decided to allow goods trains to pass in view of the acute shortage of coal and fertiliser supply, they decided not to allow any passenger trains to pass through. But the Railways has refused to restore goods train services as well over issues of security.
Now, the Modi government has invited the farmers for talks to the national capital on 13 November in a bid to end the impasse.
In a telephonic interview, the state chief of the ruling Congress labeled the Centre’s intentions as suspect, saying that it is playing a dangerous blinking game with the farmers. He also called the protests valid, adding that the Centre’s minimum support price (MSP) assurance is a “misnomer”.
‘Centre’s intentions suspect’
Sunil Jakhar said that while the Centre has now called the farmers for talks, their intentions are “suspect”.
“Captain Amarinder Singh himself has approached the Centre earlier to listen to the farmers but the response has not been encouraging,” he said.
On Monday, ThePrint reported that while a meeting has been proposed by the BJP’s Harjeet Singh Grewal between a delegation of the protesting farmers and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal — farmer unions have said that they have only been sent feelers for the meeting.
“If you see what the farmer unions are saying, it appears that the Centre’s overtures for a meeting is a mere eyewash,” Jakhar said.
He added that the Modi government does not care about the farmers and their protest does not affect the Centre in any way.
“The BJP is playing a very dangerous blinking game with the farmers to see who will blink first. But the farmers should realise that this will be a long drawn struggle. To the BJP, Punjab and its farmers don’t matter. For them it’s only 13 seats in the Lok Sabha, of which they win only two anyway. So they don’t care about Punjab,” he said.
‘Farmers protest valid’
The farmers’ opposition is to the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, which allows farmers to sell their produce outside Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC); the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, which allows contract farming; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020, which deregulates the production, supply, distribution of certain food items.
According to Jakhar, farmers’ reservations to these bills are “valid” and the BJP-led central government is trying to abolish the prevalent agricultural system in Punjab.
“Land is much more fertile in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But then why do their farmers come here to sell their produce? It’s because they don’t have the mandi system and infrastructure that we have established across the state which allows our farmers to get fair prices for their produce at MSP,” he said.
Jakhar decried the Centre’s assurance that the MSP system will continue.
“Centre’s assurance that the MSP will continue is just a misnomer. They actually want to reduce and cap MSP and eventually do away with it. In a sense they want to pull the carpet from under the farmers’ feet,” he said.
“The BJP’s claims that contract farming will not affect farmers is also wrong, because it is just another way of taking away farmers’ land and giving it to corporates.”
‘Power shortage due to coal shortage’
Sunil Jakhar pinned the blame for this on the BJP and the previous Shiromani Akali Dal government for privatisation of power plants — another key protest site for the agitating farmers.
“There’s monumental corruption in the three private power plants, which were brought in by the Badals who were hand in glove with the corporates. The farmers may want the government plants to run and that is why they are protesting at the private plants but even for the government plants to run we need coal,” he said.
That’s why, Jakhar said, farmers’ move of stopping trains is not prudent. “Blocking trains in Punjab doesn’t make sense. Farmers should realise that they are cutting their own roots. We need coal to run the government plants,” he said.
“Otherwise to run the government plants we will need to buy from the central grid. But where’s the money to do that? We already have dues worth Rs 25,000 crore to the central grid,” he added.
‘Stubble burning resolution boils down to finances’
Not just power shortage, Jakhar said the resolution of Punjab’s stubble burning issue, which contributes massively to the air pollution in north India, also boils down to finances.
“It all boils down to the economy. Any single day delay in sowing of paddy impacts the cultivation. Farmers need machines that can sow these crops fast. But these machines are expensive. Biomass machines are not cheap. Centre should give financial assistance to Punjab to get these machines. Farmers also need big tractors to pull these machines which are expensive. Where is the money for all this?” he asked.
Jakhar said the Centre wants to legislate on agriculture but doesn’t want to take financial responsibility.
“Agriculture is a state subject. The Centre wants to legislate on agricultural issues but won’t take any financial responsibility. They just want to paint Punjab’s government and its farmers as villains.”