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With no quick end in sight to the farmer agitation and talks with the government stalled, there is growing disquiet within the ranks of the Punjab BJP. Veteran leader and former BJP national vice-president Laxmi Kanta Chawla said Saturday the agitation should not have been allowed to fester for so long, and that the Prime Minister could solve the situation “in a day” if he wanted.
Many other party leaders expressed apprehension that the protests could take a violent turn, even as they dread the civic polls scheduled next month.
A former minister, Chawla, 78, told The Sunday Express, “Speaking as a citizen of India and not as a BJP leader, I feel no protest should run so long. A solution to it should have been found at the earliest. In mid-December, after the number of farmers dying due to cold or suicide had reached 30, I even wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that if the Agriculture Minister is not able to solve the issue, the PM should take the matter in his own hands.”
Chawla said the farmers had “set an example for the world” by ensuring peace despite the protest going on for so long. “Kisan is not 100 per cent wrong and neither are the farm laws. The Prime Minister himself should sit with the farmers to find a solution. I feel that if the PM wants, a solution can be found in a day. ”
A Malwa-based leader, requesting anonymity, accused the state unit of failing to present the true picture of the protests to the Delhi leadership. “First the farm ordinances were passed in Parliament despite protests. Later, the party did not wake up to the fact that the Akali Dal broke its 27-year-old alliance with us due to the anger among the farmers. Above all, even though farmers started a rail roko and indefinite protests in October, the first meeting with Union ministers was arranged only on November 13. Ten rounds of meetings have taken place since the farmers reached Delhi, but only one meeting was held when farmers were protesting in Punjab from June 6 to November 26,” the leader points out.
Manjinder Singh Kang, the former state secretary of the BJP who resigned from the party on October 15, also says the senior state leadership never took the agitation seriously. In the past 10 days, more than than 15 BJP leaders have quit the party and joined the Akali Dal. “I kept saying the leadership was not giving the right feedback to the high command. At times I even had heated arguments with them. Finally, when on October 13, at a meeting with farmers in Delhi, the Union ministers did not turn up but sent the Secretary, Agriculture, I decided to resign,” Kang says, adding that even after that, all that the NDA government did initially was hold virtual meetings of Union ministers to “explain” the farm laws. “They completely misread the situation.”
A senior leader said had Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar held talks with farmers back when they were protesting in the state, the latter may have settled for amendments. “At that time, they were only worried about the MSP,” the leader says.
What is adding to the disquiet in the state BJP are the forthcoming municipal council polls, scheduled for February 15. A source said not many BJP leaders are keen to contest given the anger. In Bathinda, a local party member threatened to quit if forced to contest.
Pakka dharnas (indefinite agitations) continue outside the houses of 31 BJP leaders in the state. They also face protests whenever they step out of homes for a public function. On Saturday, protesters held a dharna outside the Bathinda hotel where former minister Manoranjan Kalia was scheduled to hold a meeting.
Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal claims more BJP leaders are set to join them in the coming days.
Denying claims of discontent, Punjab BJP organisation secretary Dinesh Kumar says the party did not make any mistakes and is on the “same page” as the national BJP. “We continuously kept giving feedback to the authorities.” He also claims that initially, the agitation was funded by the Congress. “They arranged tents, langars and other expenses for the protesters. And now the protest is in the hands of the Communists, who don’t want the issue settled. In Punjab, out of 31 farm unions, 26 have Communist leanings.”
Kumar goes on to allege terror links. “Now the funding is coming from various sections and one cannot rule out the role of Naxals and Khalistani people, who have also become part of the protest. For many it is an opportunity to campaign for leadership. We have been making all efforts to end these protests, but it is the unions which are stretching them.”
About the coming civic polls, Kumar says, “We are in revival mode and will contest the elections in all the municipal councils and municipal corporations… And in the 2022 Assembly polls, the BJP will form a government on its own in the state.”
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