Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh is working behind the scenes to end the farmers’ agitation, even as his party high command led by Rahul Gandhi continues to vociferously support the farmers’ demand for a total repeal of the three farm laws.
The chief minister has deployed at least three top government functionaries — two senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officers and an agriculture expert — at the Singhu border near Delhi to identify and engage with the moderate voices among agitating farmers and their leaders. His idea is to persuade these moderate sections to accept the Centre’s offer of amendments to the laws to address their grievances and fears, without repealing the laws.
These officials were sent to Singhu shortly after the chief minister returned from Delhi following a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah last month.
After the meeting, Amarinder had told reporters, “I have reiterated my government’s stand over the issue and I have requested him (Shah) and the farmers to resolve the matter soon because this affects the economy of my state and also the security of the nation.”
According to officials involved in the efforts to break the stalemate, Shah had impressed on Amarinder the serious implications of the continuing farmers’ agitation for Punjab, which has “a troubled past”. Shah is said to have urged the chief minister to collaborate with the Centre to end the stalemate.
Unlike Rahul Gandhi who seems to see in the agitation an opportunity to attack the Narendra Modi government, the Punjab CM is said to be conscious of diminishing returns with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) jumping in to fish in the troubled waters.
With only a year to go for assembly polls, Amarinder, sources said, is “extremely keen” to have the matter resolved at the earliest, fearing a deterioration in law and order in the state.
“We are here at the border completely off the record. We are trying to talk to the farmers and their leaders both, to get a sense of what they really want and how much they are ready to let go in terms of their demands,” one of the IPS officers deployed at Singhu told ThePrint. “The sense we have gathered is that the (farmer) leaders are now being led more by the crowd than the other way around. And the crowd is not ready to accept anything other than a repeal of the three Acts.”
The stalemate between the two sides continues at present as the seventh round of talks, which took place Monday, also remained inconclusive. Another round of meetings is expected on 8 January. Thousands of farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been camping at the various entry points to Delhi since 28 November.
The CM’s stance has meanwhile put him at odds with his party.
The Congress high command led by Rahul Gandhi is backing the farmers’ demand for the repeal of the laws. Gandhi has been consistently tweeting in favour of the farmers.
किसानों को MSP की लीगल गारंटी ना दे पाने वाली मोदी सरकार अपने उद्योगपति साथियों को अनाज के गोदाम चलाने के लिए निश्चित मूल्य दे रही है।
सरकारी मंडियां या तो बंद हो रही हैं या अनाज खरीदा नहीं जा रहा।
किसानों के प्रति बेपरवाही और सूट-बूट के साथियों के प्रति सहानुभूति क्यूँ?
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 3, 2021
Sources in the party high command said the agitation, led largely by Punjab farmers, has put the Modi government in a spot probably for the first time in the past six years, and the Congress would like its discomfiture to continue.
For Amarinder, a tightrope walk
CM Amarinder Singh, who has otherwise supported the farmers, is now walking the tightrope between maintaining peace in his state and looking the other way in allowing supporters of the agitation to express their anguish in any which way.
In the past one week alone, there have been two incidents where BJP supporters, largely Hindus, and those backing the farmers’ agitation, largely Sikhs, nearly clashed.
On Saturday, supporters of the farmer agitation took a trolley load of cow dung and threw it inside the house of former cabinet minister and senior BJP leader Tikshan Sud in Hoshiarpur. A large group of Sud’s supporters who were at his house at that time started raising slogans in support of the BJP. The police had a tough time trying to control the agitated BJP supporters from clashing with the farmers.
The police tried to send out a strong message, but initially registering a case of attempt to murder against the agitating farmers. But the move came under severe criticism from the opposition.
On Sunday, a group of farmers tried to disrupt a public programme of state BJP president Ashwani Sharma in Ludhiana where the police again averted a possible clash between the farmers and BJP supporters. The police allegedly resorted to cane-charging the protesters after they clashed with the police.
Angered by the police action, the protesters burnt the CM’s effigy Tuesday.
Dr Kanwalpreet Kaur, professor, department of political science, DAV College, Chandigarh, said the chief minister is now under growing pressure from all sides.
“The CM is already on the back foot in the state following his meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah last month when he came back talking about the agitation having the potential of threatening national security,” Kaur said. “Now if he acts against the farmers in a bid to maintain law and order, he loses out politically. Every passing day of the Delhi protest is costing the Congress politically in Punjab.”
Amarinder faced a similar predicament when supporters of the farmers’ protest began damaging Reliance Jio telecommunication towers across the state last month. He first made an appeal but when that did not work he had to issue a warning.
CM not happy with ‘Team Rahul’
Sources in the Congress also said the chief minister is not happy with some MPs from the state considered to be a part of ‘Team Rahul’ who have been supporting the farmers but, according to Amarinder, making unwarranted statements.
Last month, Ludhiana MP Ravneet Bittu, who is considered to be close to Rahul, told a media channel that the party would fight the farmers’ battle to the finish even if it meant “heaps of dead bodies” and “bloodshed”.
The statement invited criticism, especially from the BJP, which accused the Congress of inciting the farmers to continue with their agitation.
“Yes, there is no doubt that Captain would want the farmers’ agitation to end as soon as possible because he wants to start with the one-year pre-poll campaign, which has already been delayed. But I believe until the farmers’ demands are fulfilled in their entirety, the agitation should continue,” another Congress MLA, who is considered to be a part of ‘Team Rahul’, told ThePrint.