Updated: November 3, 2020 11:55:19 pm
The opposition parties in Punjab, including the SAD, BJP and AAP, Tuesday dubbed as “drama and photo op” the decision of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to lead a relay ‘dharna’ in Delhi over President Ram Nath Kovind’s refusal to meet a delegation led by him over the Centre’s farm laws.
Reacting to the CM’s decision, the Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab unit chief and MP Bhagwant Mann said the CM was, instead of going to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issues of “black laws”, heading to Rajghat for “enacting another drama” in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue to “mislead” the people of Punjab, especially the farmers.
“The decision to withdraw the black laws and guarantee of procurement of all crops at the MSP, including wheat and paddy, is in the hands of the Prime Minister. Punjab CM is simply trying to fool the people by resorting to such cheap gimmicks to hoodwink the farmers with ulterior motive of misleading them,” Mann said.
The AAP MP said that if the Punjab Assembly had passed its own laws to guaranteeing government procurement at the MSPs instead of amending the farm laws pushed by the Modi government, there would have been no Constitutional impediment to negating the central laws.
Mann said that, instead of weakening the peasant struggle and misleading them by lying, the CM should meet PM. Mann said if Amarinder could not do so, he should step down as chief minister.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, in a statement, asked Amarinder not to indulge in “sham” relay ‘dharnas’ in Delhi but start an indefinite hunger strike at Rajghat to demand immediate repeal of the central agriculture laws.
Asking the CM if he was really serious about the protest or was just playing to the gallery, Sukhbir said, “If the purpose is to demand repeal of the agriculture laws and ensuring assured government purchase of food grains as per minimum support price (MSP), then the chief minister should lead an indefinite hunger strike and not give in till the demands of the farming community are accepted in toto”.
Stating that the chief minister was, however, unlikely to take up this proposal as he did not want to take up cudgels against the BJP-led central government, Sukhbir said, “This is the reason why Amarinder Singh is indulging in one ‘tamasha’ after another instead of doing anything concrete to find a solution to the ongoing crisis being faced by the farming community as well as trade and industry.”
Instead of approaching the Centre and demanding the immediate restart of goods trains to Punjab, the CM wants to waste time in photo ops, he claimed.
The SAD chief also asked the CM why he had “misled” the legislators and unilaterally announced the November 4 appointment with the President when the latter had not even given the same.
BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh alleged that the CM was responsible for “creating anarchic situation” in the state by “fomenting discontent” among farmers and “misleading” them on the facts of the three agriculture bills.
“Burning effigies to hurt the religious sentiments, making calculated attacks on the BJP leaders, Congress leaders owning up responsibility of incidents of violence and arson indicate that the CM has given violent elements a free hand in the state,” said Chugh.
“It is no point blaming the Centre if you cannot maintain law and order in the state”, Chugh said, adding the Punjab and Haryana High Court had also reprimanded the state government for failing to discharge its constitutional duty. “In this situation how can you blame the Centre for not allowing trains in Punjab?”, Chugh asked.
Confrontation with Centre reaches Delhi: Capt to lead Cong MLAs dharna at Rajghat
Punjab’s confrontation with Centre is set to reach Delhi with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announcing that he will lead a ‘relay dharna’ of Congress MLAs at Delhi’s Rajghat on Wednesday following President Ram Nath Kovind’s refusal to meet a delegation led by him over the Centre’s farm laws.
A Punjab government statement said that CM’s symbolic dharna is also intended to highlight the power crisis and scarcity of essential supplies in the state due to suspension of freight trains to the state by the Railways.
Punjab Chief Minister’s Office had on October 21 sought an appointment for Amarinder and his delegation with the President on November 4 to urge him to grant his assent to Punjab’s farm Bills passed last month by the state Assembly in a bid to negate the Centre’s three new agricultural laws.
The state government on Tuesday said the Rashtrapati Bhavan had declined the CM’s request for an appointment with the President.
While most of the Congress MLAs have already reached Delhi, Amarinder would be flying in his chopper on Wednesday morning to lead the protest.
As there is Section 144 imposed in Delhi, groups of four MLAs each of the Congress would sit on a relay dharna at the Rajghat. MLAs will go from Delhi’s Punjab Bhawan to Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘samadhi’ in groups of four. Amarinder will lead the first batch at 10.30 am. Apart from the MLAs from the ruling Congress, Amarinder has also urged Punjab legislators from other parties to participate. Before leaving Punjab Bhawan, the CM will chair a meeting of all Congress MLAs there.
President’s refusal despite repeated requests
The latest provocation to take the protest to Delhi came when President Ram Nath Kovind refused to meet a delegation led by the CM. The CM had sought permission to meet him on November 4. The Chief Minister had written a letter to President on October 21 seeking appointment for the delegation to meet him. The President’s office did not communicate anything to the Chief Minister’s Office till October 29. The CMO sent a reminder on October 29. The President’s office responded on Monday evening saying the meeting would not serve any purpose as the state’s Bills had not reached him yet, adding that they were still with the Governor’s office.
The CMO sent another letter on Monday itself, stating that the Chief Minister and other MLAs needed time to bring to the President’s notice the situation on the ground and to seek his intervention for resolution of the issues that have cropped up. However, the President’s office responded saying “the request cannot be accepted at this juncture for reasons cited earlier.”
The Bills passed by Punjab Assembly are meant to reach President through the Governor. The state had sent the four Bills to the Governor soon after passing these in the Assembly. Since then these Bills have been lying with him.
Expressing concern over the development, the Chief Minister said as far as the State Amendment Bills, introduced under Article 254 (ii) were concerned, the Governor’s role was limited to forwarding the same to the President in accordance with the Constitutional provisions. In any case, as the letter from his office had made it clear, that was not the only issue on which the state needed the President’s intervention, he added.
Punjab’s Advocate General Atul Nanda said that as per the rules, the President had to give the assent “as soon as possible”. It has already been about 10 days since the Bills were passed.
Union ministers refuse to meet Cong MPs
Also, the Congress MPs from Punjab have also been camping in Delhi to seek appointment with Union Finance Minister, Union Railways Minister and the Prime Minister to discuss the crisis situation arising out of suspension of goods trains. Neither has, however, given them time.
The ministers had sought time from Railways and Finance Ministers to discuss suspension of goods trains and non-payment of GST dues.
The CM on Tuesday took serious note of the refusal of two central ministers to meet Congress MPs from Punjab to discuss grave issues of importance to the state.
Power cuts in Punjab
Meanwhile, staring at shortage of Urea and DAP, the state government has already started imposing power cuts in the state.
CMD of PSPCL, A Venu Prasad, told The Indian Express that on Tuesday, they had imposed power cuts of 3-4 hours duration in the state as there was shortage of power.
“We had to impose cuts today as there was a gap between demand and supply. The price of power through exchange had shot up than quoted by us in the tenders. Hence we could not buy the power,” he said.
He added that they were spending between Rs 10 crore to Rs 15 crore everyday on purchasing power as all the public and private thermal power plants had shut down in the state due to non-availability of coal owing to suspension of trains. With GVK Power Plant in Goindwal also shutting down on Tuesday, all public and private power plants have shut down in the state.
The Chief Minister said the situation on the ground was grim as the state had run out of coal, urea/DAP and other essential supplies due to the decision of the Railways not to ply goods trains even after the farmers eased their blockade to allow such movement.
The CM added that with its bid for power purchase not cleared for Tuesday, the state was facing extreme power shortage, adding that all agricultural and vegetable supplies had been curtailed, and high loss feeders power supply had been cut.
“The people of Punjab were staring at a dark festival season,” he said.
Further, the continued and inexplicable suspension of the goods trains by the Railways was also having serious consequences for other states such as Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, Amarinder pointed out, reiterating his warning of the armed forces becoming sitting ducks for the enemies if they do not get their essential supplies before snow sets in.
“The central government’s step-motherly treatment towards Punjab is pushing us into a deep crisis,” said Amarinder, terming the recent developments as against country’s Constitutionally mandated federal character. The situation, if not checked, could snowball into a major catastrophe and spell doom for the nation, whose foundations were built on the ethos of democratic federalism, he warned.
3 ministers not to join Delhi dharna
While the entire Cabinet and MLAs of Congress are reaching Delhi to participate in relay dharna, three ministers including Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria will be staying back. They have been assigned by the CM to meet the agitating farmers in Chandigarh on Wednesday, a day ahead of their Bharat Bandh.
All eyes on Sidhu
As the state’s leadership is off to Delhi, all eyes are on former Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on whether he would be participating in the relay dharna or not. Though Sidhu has not missed any opportunity to be seen standing in support of farmers in the recent past, his participation in Wednesday’s protest is not confirmed.
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