BJP leader Avinash Khanna says some people with vested interests are spreading lies.
Senior BJP leader Avinash Rai Khanna, who has been an MLA, a Rajya Sabha MP, a Lok Sabha MP from Hoshiarpur and state president of Punjab unit of the BJP in the past, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the farmers’ agitation. Khanna, who was till recently the national vice president of the party and is now the state in-charge of Himachal Pradesh, said the BJP will contest on all the 117 seats of Punjab in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Edited excerpts:
Q: You have Svast public life experience of Punjab, having been a MLA, MP and the state president of the BJP. As per you, why are the farmers, who are mostly from Punjab, not happy with the farmer bills? Why are they so worried?
A: I want to make it absolutely clear that our party can never be anti-farmer, we have given farmers which they have never even asked for. During Atalji’s time, we gave Kisan Credit Cards so that the farmers don’t have to go to money lenders, the KCC gave them purchasing power on a low interest rate.
Then came the Narendra Modi government. I want you to recall that earlier there used to police lathi-charge on farmers when they would go to take urea as the demand was more and supply was less. In the last 6 years, no police lathi-charge has happened on farmers for urea because we introduced Neem coated urea, since earlier urea would be misused for other purposes, but now it can only be useful to the farmers.
We have put a lot of emphasis on making soil health cards and crop insurance popular among the farmers. The Modi government introduced the system of a permanent MSP fixation formula as earlier farmers would have to launch agitations to arrive at an MSP. Now, we have given a permanent formula to determine MSP based on M.S. Swaminathan report, as a result of which the farmers never had to agitate for MSP in the last six years. We brought Kisan Samman Nidhi to ensure financial safeguards for the farmers. Just a few days ago, the PM released Rs 18000 crore to the farmers, which went straight into their bank accounts.
I am telling you all these points to convince you that the Modi government has taken a lot of steps for the farmers since the last six years. As for the three laws, they have clearly left everything on the discretion of the farmer, nothing has been forced on him.
If he wants to go to mandi, he can, if he does not want to, no one can force him. If he wants, he can do contract farming, if he does not want, he does not have to do it. If he does contract farming, he works in association with an entrepreneur which gives him more options to sell his produce at a better rate.
Q: So what explains the anger among the protesters?
A: Some people with vested interest are spreading lies to confuse the innocent farmers. Even in these circumstances, we are ready to address all the concerns through talks, which we are doing. Ministers are doing discussions that go on for 7-8 hours. There is no problem that cannot be solved through talks; violence and agitation will never solve anything. We have a past record to back our claim that we have always been pro-farmer and we will stay that way. Our Niyat and Niyati are always clear and in sync.
Q: A section of the media and your own party men have stated that the agitation is the brainchild of the middleman and not of the genuine farmers. How do you see it?
A: I will not call them middlemen, they are licenced commission agents, who are registered with the government. Some anti-India people, miscreants have misguided the farmers and the commission agents and are using them to achieve their nefarious goals. We all have seen the presence of political elements in these agitations and the kind of sloganeering that is happening on these protest sites. A genuine farmer will never do anything that will hurt the country’s interest.
Q: You have suggested that the copies of the farm laws should be produced in local language and distributed to farmers. Do you believe there is a trust deficit when it comes to the farmers of Punjab with regards to the Central government as no such agitation is being seen in other parts of the country?
A: We have done everything that we can, we are still doing everything we can to make the agitators understand that the farm laws are for their own benefit, but if they are not ready to listen or understand, then how far can we be blamed? One can check any of our interactions, we have never been anti-farmers, our focus has always been pro-farmers
Q: One of the grievances of the farmers is that neither the politicians nor the media covered their agitation when they were protesting in Punjab for two months and only when they reached Delhi that they were heard. Do you believe the Punjab BJP state unit should have played a more active role in handling this crisis at the local level?
A: I can tell you with full responsibility that we did programmes to reach out to farmers of Punjab, we printed booklets in Punjabi, we went to farmers, we interacted with them, we have left no stone unturned, both at the party and the government level to make them understand the benefits of these laws and to clear the doubts that they had.
Q: Local elections are scheduled for Himachal for January next year. What are the challenges that you are looking at?
A: Our government under the leadership of CM Jai Ram Thakur has done everything that a pro people government should do for farmers, horticulturists, laborers, students, businessmen. On 27 December, we completed three years of our government in the state and we presented our report cards to the people detailing the work done by us. And the people are happy with our work. Our slogan is from “Panchayat to parliament” which shows how serious and sincere we are about the developments at local level.
Q: Your 23-year-old alliance in Punjab with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ended recently. What is the BJP’s plan for the February 2022 Assembly elections?
A: I see this development as an opportunity. We will establish our own organisation and leadership in the state. We will contest on all the 117 Assembly seats and 13 Lok Sabha seats and our first test is the local polls that are going to take place soon. For the first time, we will be contesting on all the wards and we will win.