Updated: February 3, 2021 8:01:06 am
Pressing for a speedy resolution of the farmers’ agitation, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh invoked the state’s troubled past to remind an all-party meeting here Tuesday that prolonged negotiations that time too over a list of demands led to Operation Blue Star in 1984, the Centre’s military action in the Golden Temple.
“Underlining the need for early resolution of the crisis,” said a government statement after the meeting, “the Chief Minister warned and said the threat from Pakistan could not be undermined… We have to work to resolve this issue before things go out of hand, he said, adding that he knew how many drones, arms and ammunition were being smuggled into the state from across the border.”
Recalling how, soon after two-month negotiations on an earlier Punjab crisis, relating to a list of some 42 demands, Operation Blue Star had happened, the Chief Minister warned that “If anger builds here, it will be exploited”, the release said.
In Delhi, the Opposition joined hands to force adjournment of both Houses of Parliament over the ongoing farmers’ agitation. Among those that joined a meeting of the Opposition, for the first time, was the Akali Dal.
The Punjab CM was referring to demands for autonomy raised by the Akali Dal before militancy erupted in Punjab, leading to Operation Blue Star. These 42 demands included the transfer of Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, to Punjab; the transfer of its share of irrigation waters from Haryana and Rajasthan; the declaration of Amritsar as a holy city; the establishment of a radio transmitter at the Golden Temple to broadcast daily prayers; and the recognition of Sikhism as a separate religion by the Constitution. Several demands, including Amritsar as a holy city, were accepted when the violence spiralled out of control.
Saying that the CM’s focus on security threats stemmed from his “awareness of the grave challenge to Punjab”, the Punjab government statement quoted him as saying that if there is no peace here, no industry will come.
While the Akali Dal split with its long-time ally BJP in September over the farm laws, Tuesday was the first time it aligned with the Opposition on the issue, having avoided its campaign so far, including the two meetings with President Ram Nath Kovind.
Akali Dal Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral attended the meeting held in the chamber of the Leader of the Opposition in the House, Ghulam Nabi Azad, to discuss the Opposition strategy. Gujral told The Indian Express, “We are not part of any grouping. Mr Azad said all parties that are seeking a separate discussion on the farmers’ issue are invited. So I went. It was not just the Akali Dal. All parties were there. The Aam Aadmi Party was there, the Samajwadi Party was there. They are not part of the UPA.”
Asked whether the Akali Dal will continue to coordinate with the Congress and other Opposition parties, Gujral said, “It is only for one issue. It is issue based.”
On what transpired at the meeting, he said, “The discussion was on whether the Opposition should stop the House from functioning for the next four-five days or whether we should concede. Because the government does not want a separate discussion on the farmers’ issue. They are saying we will start with the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s Address and all issues can be raised during the debate. So the question is whether we should abstain or whether we should participate. My view was that we should participate because the farmer wants to hear their representatives.”
The Congress said it had decided to offer legal support to the farmers and journalists facing cases over coverage of the agitation, with Vivek Tankha holding a meeting of heads of legal departments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. They will also “consider filing petitions in High Court in Haryana to challenge the systematic suspension of Internet services”, a statement by Tankha said.
The all-party meeting called by Amarinder Singh, which was boycotted by the BJP, demanded that the Centre make the MSP “a statutory right”, and continue procurement of foodgrains through the Food Corporation of India and other such agencies, as well as ahrtiyas. It also sought withdrawal of changes to the environment and electricity laws, which are part of the demands raised by farmers.
The parties, including the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Akali Dal, Lok Insaaf Party, SAD Democratic Party, BSP, CPI and the CPM, also demanded a judicial inquiry into what they called the “laxity” and “complicity” of those responsible for maintaining law and order at the Red Fort, during the violence on January 26.
Calling the farmers’ agitation “historic”, and flaying the bid for “sabotage” on Republic Day, the resolution said the violence should not be used to victimise the protesters or mediapersons. It demanded that the Centre “withdraw all cases registered against farmers, farm workers, journalists, and other peaceful agitators, and release all those detained” and that those “missing ” be returned to their families.
Thanking BKU leader Rakesh Tikait for his role and Haryana farmers for their support, the parties sought dialogue “in keeping with the principles of cooperative federalism, respecting the Constitutional role of states and the people”.
The CM said his government will again bring Bills to negate the farm laws, as the Governor had not sent the earlier ones to the President for ratification. “The Constitution provides that if a Bill is passed twice by the Vidhan Sabha, it has to be sent by the Governor to the President,” Amarinder said. He added that he would seek time to meet the President again over the issue, and said he was constantly in touch with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Claiming “a big conspiracy” against Punjab, state Congress president Sunil Jakhar called the barricades put up at Delhi’s borders and new arms with the police to keep the protesters out as “appalling”, calling these reminiscent of “the Chinese troops standing at Galwan Valley”. He accused the government of dismissing farmers as hooligans, terrorists, Khalistanis and anti-nationals from the start.
He also questioned the Sangh Parivar over raising a hue and cry over the Nishan Sahib at Red Fort, saying it had not allowed the national flag at its headquarters for decades.
Akali Dal leader Prem Singh Chandumajra sought an independent commission to expose the “entire conspiracy” behind the Red Fort violence.
The AAP’s Bhagwant Mann also said the Red Fort violence appeared to have been pre-planned, and that the barricades suggested Punjab’s farmers were sitting across a hostile border. The AAP walked out after the CM rejected their demand that the Punjab Police be deployed to protect farmers protesting at Delhi borders as unconstitutional.
The meeting started with two-minute silence in remembrance of those who had died over the course of the protests.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines