New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is planning to lead rallies in Punjab later this week as part of protests against the contentious new farm laws.
A senior Congress leader in the state said, “We have put in a request asking him to arrive on 2 October, the day of the Punjab Bandh. If all goes by plan, he will be staying here for two-three days and address rallies in different parts of the state.”
This will be an attempt to show Congress’ solidarity with the farmers of Punjab, added the leader who did not wish to be named.
However, a member of Gandhi’s team told ThePrint that the former Congress chief is yet to take a call on the dates of the rallies.
Farmers across the country have been protesting against the three farm bills passed in Parliament last week, labelling them anti-poor and anti-farmer. All three bills have now got the President’s assent and the government has notified them as Acts.
On Tuesday, Gandhi released a video of his interaction with farmers from different states such as Bihar, Haryana, and Maharashtra.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 29, 2020
While the farmers spoke about how the Acts work against their interests, Gandhi said the laws will serve the same purpose as demonetisation and GST did.
“Isme aur notebandi aur GST mein koi fark nahi hai. Fark bas yeh hai ki woh pair mein kulhaadi thi yeh seedha aapke dil mein choora hai (There is no difference between these Acts and demonetisation and the GST. The only difference is that those hit your feet with axes, and this a dagger in your heart),” Gandhi said in the interaction.
Capitalising farmers’ agitation
Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Punjab will be part of his party’s larger strategy to capitalise on the farmers’ agitation against the Acts. The Congress is hopeful the government will be forced to give in under sustained pressure
“BJP usually just has its eyes on the prize. To them, no issue is a big enough issue unless it can hamper their re-election. This is one of those things that could potentially threaten that,” said a senior Congress leader, who didn’t wish to be named.
“This is not about one state or one community. Farmers’ issues are pan-India, they are not a small population. So there is increasingly this sense that we in the opposition can’t let this opportunity pass by,” the leader added.
In 2015, after facing backlash and concerted opposition to its amendments to the land acquisition Act of 2013, the Narendra Modi government had agreed to drop some of its most contentious changes.
This was seen as a significant victory for the opposition at the time. The Congress is hoping to see the government roll back clauses of the farms Acts in a similar fashion.
“That was a remarkable moment which showed the people that the Congress is pro-farmer while the BJP is anti-farmers. We have demonstrated that across India since then, but unfortunately other issues dominated the previous Lok Sabha elections,” said national Congress spokesperson and former MP Rajeev Gowda.
“But this is the moment for us to mobilise farmers across the country, and expose the government and its anti-farmer nature,” he added. “The Acts have already been passed. But nothing is coming in the way of the government to bring in an ordinance that will add some of the protections we have been asking for to ensure farmers do not get exploited.”
On Monday, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi asked states under its rule to enact legislation to bypass the three Acts.
“Congress President has advised the Congress-ruled states to explore the possibilities to pass laws in their respective states under Article 254(2) of the Constitution which allows the state legislatures to pass a law to negate the Anti-Agriculture Central laws encroaching upon State’s jurisdiction under the Constitution,” the party said in a statement.
Attempt to present an issue that affects all
The Congress is seeking to ensure that the cause is seen as issue affecting not just farmers but the country at large.
“This is not just about farmers, this is about the future of the country… The farmer is not just a farmer alone. Farmer’s voice is in the youth, farmer’s voice is in the Army, in the police… It is because of the farmer that the country gained freedom,” Rahul Gandhi said in his video interaction with farmers.
The party has also stepped up its attack against the new Acts at a pan-India level. Along with other opposition parties, the Congress has been leading protests in Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh as well as Delhi.
In Delhi, members of the Youth Congress Monday burnt a tractor at India Gate to mark their ‘protest’.
Our country thrives on the blood and sweat of our farmers.
From fighting the British to feeding the entire nation, our farmers are the nation's backbone.
— Youth Congress (@IYC) September 28, 2020
The party even sought to invoke Bhagat Singh as Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh participated in a sit-in protest at his ancestral village on the freedom fighter’s birth anniversary Monday.
“The Acts will have the worst effect in Punjab. Our farmers have provided food and grains to so many states for decades. And suddenly, these Acts make them feel abandoned,” Pratap Singh Bajwa, Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab, told ThePrint.
Bajwa added that if the Acts are implemented in Punjab, it will “weaken the integrity and unity of the country”. “If they create these kinds of circumstances, it would not just remain the farmers’ fight, but will become about something much larger, concerning all aspects of our life,” he added.
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