By accusing the Congress of “indulging in khoon ki kheti” (farming through blood), Union Agriculture Minister, Narendra Singh Tomar, has tried to create an erroneous impression that the grand old party was responsible for the current agitation. However, the fact remains that no political organization in the country has the capacity to mobilise such a prolonged protest, unless those who are protesting are convinced that they have taken up the right cause, which they will carry forward, till their demands are met.
The Opposition parties including the Congress have no option but to express solidarity with farmers given that agriculture continues to be the main source of livelihood in various states and thereby to dub the agitators as anti-national or Maoists is extremely irresponsible. The government’s efforts should be to continue their negotiations with the protestors to resolve the contentious issue. In fact, every attempt must be made to strike a conciliatory note and what is being witnessed is that the Centre is preparing itself for an unnecessary confrontation, where no one shall win but the country shall lose.
Tomar’s jibe at the Congress in Rajya Sabha appears to be more an effort to sideline the main issue and instead introduce a political dimension that would cover up his inability to reach a settlement with the farmers. In some ways, it reflects that the government has made up its mind not to concede and was thus preparing the ground for a political battle that would ensue.
The BJP has evidently adopted a two-prong approach vis-à-vis the Congress. In Parliament, the party was accused of fanning the trouble while on TV channels, BJP spokespersons have been quoting Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh to drive home the point that Khalistanis had infiltrated the movement. In fact, what Captain Amarinder Singh has been saying is that weapons were being sent through drones by Pakistan to incite youngsters in order to rekindle the Khalistan issue. His observations are to caution the Centre that they must resolve the matter, which would otherwise be exploited by India’s enemies to create trouble in the border state.
The Punjab Chief Minister had convened an all-party meeting to discuss the ramifications of the agitation and has urged the Centre to put the laws on hold indefinitely. Some other Congress leaders such as Pratap Singh Bajwa have criticized the Chief Minister for holding the all-party meet in Chandigarh. He has stated that this meeting should have been held in either the Punjab Bhawan or the Kapurthala House in the national capital since Parliament is in session, and the CM could have led the all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister or the President. It is obvious that politics within the Congress has also started. However, it does not mean that as suggested by Tomar, the Congress is doing “khoon ki kheti”.
The situation at the ground level is changing rapidly. For instance, it is perhaps for the first time since the creation of Haryana, nearly 55 years ago, that people of Punjab and Haryana have come together. So far there have been multiple differences between the two states. They include divergent views on sharing of water and the demand for Chandigarh as the capital. The farm laws have brought the people together regardless of the fact that Haryana has a BJP government and Punjab is under the Congress dispensation.
A similar pattern is emerging in Western Uttar Pradesh also where the differences between the Jats and Muslims (who are also Jats) that widened during the communal clashes several years ago, are now diminishing. The farm laws apparently are working as the unifier. Rakesh Tikait, who was at one stage being viewed suspiciously by a section of farmers as someone who was working with the government, has apparently changed his stance. He perhaps wants to be equated with his late father, Mahendra Singh Tikait, who had successfully led a farmers’ agitation by a dharna at the Boat Club Lawns in 1988. The senior Tikait is regarded in farmers’ circle as someone who assumed greatness by taking up their cause and not hankering after any political position.
What is also alarming is that the Centre is sending mixed messages which make many doubt its intentions. A few days ago, the Prime Minister had indicated that he was a phone call away for holding talks. However, on the very next day, the Delhi police started the fortification of Delhi, strengthening the speculation that the government could come down heavily on the protestors if they tried to barge into the capital. Opposition MPs who visited the Ghazipur border on Thursday to express their solidarity with farmers were not allowed to go beyond a certain point. They have charged that Ghazipur looked more like the India-Pakistan border rather than the gateway to Delhi.
Violence of any nature is non-negotiable but what happened on the Republic Day needs to be probed properly in order to get better clarity. There are many seasoned police officials who believe that the siege of Red Fort would not have been possible unless some vested interests provided logistical support. The agitating farmers are not demanding Khalistan but a repeal of laws. The stand-off must end as early as possible. The two sides should show flexibility to reach an amicable settlement.
India’s enemies would want to foment trouble. Therefore, the government should step up efforts to engage with the farmers. Confrontation is not the answer. Between us.