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Captain meets Shah, stand on farm laws key to what next

Ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections next year, the BJP is also said to be keen to rope in Singh. But any political negotiation seems to hinge around the contentious farm laws – the BJP is facing protests from a large section of the farming community in Punjab on the issue.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: September 30, 2021 7:28:28 am
Captain arrives at Shah’s residence in Delhi Wednesday. (ANI)

JUST OVER a week after he resigned as Punjab Chief Minister, veteran Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the national capital on Wednesday, setting off speculation about the meeting and his next steps.

“Met Union Home Minister @AmitShah ji in Delhi. Discussed the prolonged farmers’ agitation against #FarmLaws & urged him to resolve the crisis urgently with repeal of the laws & guarantee MSP, besides supporting Punjab in crop diversification,” Singh tweeted after the almost hour-long meeting at Shah’s residence.

While there were reports that Singh may also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there was no official confirmation.

Sources said Singh, asked to quit by the high command after a fractious fight within the state unit in which he found himself isolated, may also meet Thursday some of the Congress’s “G23” – the group of 23 senior Congress leaders who wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi a year ago seeking an overhaul.

Ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections next year, the BJP is also said to be keen to rope in Singh. But any political negotiation seems to hinge around the contentious farm laws – the BJP is facing protests from a large section of the farming community in Punjab on the issue.

For now, although he has publicly criticised the Congress, Singh remains with the party. BJP sources said that while the party is desperate to find a middle path on the issue of the farm laws, both the party and the government have made it clear that there is no question of repealing the laws. In this scenario, said sources, the BJP hopes that Singh will help to end the stalemate.

However, Singh’s reiteration of the demand for repeal of the laws Wednesday indicates that both sides have not reached any conclusion on the contours of any potential engagement. According to sources in Punjab, Singh sought legal opinion on the farm laws issue, ahead of his meeting with Shah.

In an interview to The Indian Express last February, Singh had said the standoff had to end at “the negotiating table”, and that some farm leaders were “agreeable” to (the laws being on hold for) “18 months but it may go up to 24 months.”

While Singh has remained tightlipped on the question of joining the BJP, sources said he has been in touch with key BJP leaders dealing with Punjab for a few months now. Even on Tuesday, his team had maintained that Singh was in the national capital on a “personal visit”, and rejected speculation that he would meet senior BJP leaders.

For the BJP, even if Singh has lost the support of his MLAs and faces anti-incumbency, it would be a major political gain if he joins the party. It would get a Sikh leader – the BJP still does not have a credible Sikh political face. With Assembly elections due in a number of states, including Punjab, next year, the BJP would also score a big political victory if Singh leaves the Congress, especially in states like Uttarakhand, Goa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh where the two parties are pitted against each other.

“Like with (Assam Chief Minister) Himanta Biswa Sarma, Amarinder’s tirade against the Gandhis would be advantageous for the BJP during poll campaigns,” said a BJP leader.

“But the Captain has not showed his cards yet, because he wants to get clarity on the party’s stand on the farm laws, which he had opposed earlier. He cannot take any stand unless there is clarity on this,” said a party leader. However, he added that the BJP is optimistic about a positive outcome. “Otherwise, he would not have met Shah like this,” he said.

At the time of resigning as Chief Minister on September 18, Singh had said that all options were open. “There is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes… At the moment, I am still in the Congress,” he had said. Saying that “people come and go in politics”, Singh had said, “I have been in politics for 52 years and I will be in politics. I have resigned today but in politics, options are never closed.”

Interestingly, former chairperson of the Punjab farmers commission and chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, Ajay Vir Jakhar, had tweeted Tuesday: “In my judgement, the Govt. has in principle already decided to withdraw/ compromise on 3 farm laws to the satisfaction of the farm unions but issue on form of legal MSP remains. After so much distress & loss of trust, hope better sense prevails on both sides of the fence.” Jakhar resigned as chairperson of the Punjab farmers commission after Singh resigned as Chief Minister.

– With inputs from Kanchan Vasdev, Chandigarh

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