While the Congress is supporting the farmers’ protest hoping it will sharpen its political offensive against the BJP government at the Centre, its leadership in Punjab has begun to worry.
The Indian Express spoke to several Punjab Congress leaders who said they were worried a protracted standoff could impact law and order in the state, especially given its restive history. Moreover, they said, a farmer movement could throw up new leaders and the agitation could quickly go “out of hand”.
That’s why, with the Amarinder Singh government having scored a political point by passing Bills in the Assembly to negate the Central farm laws, the party’s state leadership hopes the Centre quickly comes to an “understanding” with the farmers.
“At least set up a committee…it will simmer down. Today, emotions are running very high but the Central Government seems to be adamant,” a senior Punjab Congress leader said.
On the possibility of separatist elements wading into the unrest, the party’s Punjab unit and the central leadership are not exactly on the same page, a leader said.
“Congress leaders of Punjab who have gone through the entire reign of militancy understand the implications. They know that this farmer struggle can destabilise, disrupt and subvert the peace of Punjab, especially with the marginalised hardliners looking for an opening,” said a leader. “In that sense, the Congress central leadership does not quite understand the nuances or dynamic of where this agitation can head.”
Senior leaders said the party was not behind the mobilisation and was, in fact, surprised by the response. “It seems like a spontaneous agitation; even the so-called union leaders have little control. There are elements of the youth guiding and driving it. It could be manipulated by extremist elements, leading to a clash…anything can happen…and Punjab will be at the receiving end,” a senior leader said.
Sources said Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar today had a meeting with Chief Minister Singh and discussed the way forward.
“The NDA government should understand the ominous consequences of this agitation getting prolonged with a hyperactive ISI and separatist elements around the world trying to fish in troubled waters. It is in the larger national interest that Punjab should remain stable and tranquil,” said Congress MP and former minister Manish Tewari. “The Central government should immediately bring an ordinance amending the farm laws and writing the continuation of the MSP and public procurement into it.”
The faceoff is “fraught with grave consequences for law and order and the nation’s internal security,” said senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Ashwani Kumar.
“The sight of farmers being bombarded with water cannons on a cold November night must put the country to shame. There is no justification whatsoever for the Government to stand on prestige. The price of obduracy in terms of weakening of the federal structure, alienation of farmers and national security must not be paid by the nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to provide financial assistance to “small and marginal” farmers who have taken Kisan credit card loans. “No moratorium package has so far been implemented (for) agriculture. It is paradoxical that the same farmer as a common man gets a moratorium if they buy a car or a fridge but they do not enjoy the moratorium on the purchase of tractors or any agri-loans,” he wrote.