With Congress all set to hold massive public meetings and tractor rallies led by party leader Rahul Gandhi in Punjab beginning Sunday as a “show of solidarity for farmers against three farm laws enacted by Centre,” the administration in at least one district, in a move to bypass the Unlock 5.0 guidelines, has termed it “an extension of ongoing farmers’ agitation in state”.
Rahul, who will be reaching Punjab Sunday, is expected to address two public meetings, each with gathering of at least 10,000 farmers in Moga and Ludhiana. He will also lead a tractor rally for which the party has arranged at least 3,000 tractors in Moga with another 2,000 to join as it enters Ludhiana.
The party has named 3-day show as ‘Kheti Bachao Yatra’ with the slogan ‘Kisan Bachao, Punjab Bachao.’
Starting from Badhni Kalan in Moga, Rahul would be driving a tractor for 52 kms over the next three days and the convoy will move through rural and link roads, which are maintained by the Punjab Mandi Board utilising the funds collected by levying market fee and rural development fund (RDF) from the grain markets. The move will symbolise how after implementation of the new farm laws, the government would also lose Rs 4,000 crore annually that it earns by levying these two taxes.
Despite advice from security agencies, Rahul will be driving an open tractor.
“Besides Rahul ji, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, general secretary incharge Harish Rawat, PCC chief Sunil Jakhar will be on the tractor,” said Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who is also the incharge of party’s programme at Badhni Kalan.
The Congress is, however, quiet about former Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. It is learned that Sidhu’s name is not included in the seating plan. Rawat had met Sidhu in Amritsar two days ago and said that he would be participating in the rally.
Jakhar, who reached Badhni Kalan Saturday to oversee the preparations, said that they did not send individual invites to any party leader. “We have not received any confirmation from anyone, including Navjot Singh Sidhu, but since it a larger cause for farmers, we are expecting all will join.”
Before starting the rally, Rahul will address a gathering at Badhni Kalan in Moga. He will address another rally at village Jattpura in Ludhiana, where the tractor rally will culminate on the first day. At each of the public meetings, at least 10,000 persons are expected to gather, said a party leader.
Incidentally, the latest ‘Guidelines for Re-Opening outside containment zones’ issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on September 30 as part of Unlock 5.0 and which are enforced from October 1 to 31, state that “Social/academic/sports/entertainment/cultural/religious/political functions…beyond limit of 100 persons may be permitted, outside containment zones, by state/UT governments only after 15th October, 2020 subject to conditions… In open spaces, keeping size of ground/space in view, and with strict observance of social distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks, provision of thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer…” The violation of guidelines will invite legal proceedings under Disaster Management Act and 188 of IPC, says the document.
The same orders were reproduced by department of home affairs and justice, Government of Punjab.
The district administrations have no clear answer on under which provision gatherings of upto 10,000 people are being allowed.
Asked, Moga deputy commissioner Sandeep Hans said, “Since days, farmers protests are also ongoing across the state. We have made all security arrangements as per CM’s security protocol. I cannot comment on if such gatherings are allowed or not as per guidelines. We will be taking all precautions.”
Ludhiana deputy commissioner Varinder Kumar Sharma was more forthcoming. “I see this event as an extension to farmers’ agitation ongoing across the state already. We have directed local administration in Raikot to ensure that all precautions are followed during the rally. The organizers have also been directed to ensure that precautions for Covid are followed.”
Asked if such gatherings are allowed as per Covid guidelines, minister Randhawa said, “Farmers might get saved from Coronavirus but not from these black laws. Corona ton bach vi gaye taan kheti nu kon bachau (Who will save agriculture of Punjab even if we are saved from coronavirus). Right now the issue we are raising is more important than coronavirus.”
To a similar query, Moga MLA Dr Harjot Kamal said, “We have instructed Coronavirus to stay away from Rahul’s rallies. I have no other answer for it”.
Fatehgarh Sahib MP and incharge for public meeting at Jattpura in Raikot, Dr Amar Singh said that they “will try to distribute masks to all and make them sit maintaining social distancing”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Jakhar termed the event as “a show of solidarity for farmers where Rahul Gandhi will be meeting and interacting with real farmers”.
Taking a jibe at the rally taken out by the Shiromani Akali Dal Thursday, Jakhar said, “Ours won’t be a roadshow like that of Akalis. What Sukhbir Badal and Harsimrat Kaur Badal did was a political drama. Our tractor march is to tell farmers that Congress is standing with them in their fight till the end. What we want to achieve is to make central government initiate a dialogue with farmers, listen to them and put the three laws in abeyance till farmers aren’t satisfied and their demands not met”.
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