Updated: March 31, 2021 8:05:21 am
The assault, allegedly by a group of farmers, against BJP MLA Arun Narang, at Malout in district Muktsar of Punjab on Saturday, has been rightly condemned by all the main parties and leaders. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has done well to reiterate his government’s firm commitment to take strict action against those who disturb the peace. At the same time, he has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene for an early resolution of the continuing farmers’ crisis to prevent the situation from escalating further. The Punjab CM makes a point that needs to be amplified and heard as the farmers’ protest against the Centre’s three farm laws enters its fifth month — the attack points to a disquieting backdrop that the Centre may have turned away from, but that hasn’t gone away. The leaderless protests that began last year against the farm laws have attracted wide support in a border state that still bears the scars from the battle it fought and won against terrorism in the 1980s. Now, with mainstream politics all but falling silent — the Centre’s talks with farm union leaders have ground to a halt, and the January 26 violence in the capital has hardened the stalemate — precious and hard-won space may have been vacated for hardliners and the fringe.
For now, BJP has seized the moment to target the Amarinder Singh government — voices in the party’s state unit have alleged a breakdown of law and order and even demanded President’s rule. But they, too, must pause and heed the dangers of the widening gulf between restless farmers and mainline political parties. Already in a corner in Punjab as the party that doesn’t have a significant electoral presence beyond some urban pockets and which has pushed through the laws at the Centre, BJP lost a vital interlocutor after its split with the Shiromani Akali Dal. The Congress, though it swept the recent local body polls, has no reason to be complacent either. Both the state’s ruling party, and its main challenger, AAP, have been insistently kept out of the farm union-led protests, and reduced to watching from the sidelines.
The stilling of negotiations between the Centre and farm union leaders could allow anxieties and resentments to grow. The attempts by the BJP regime to talk down to farmers, or to deny them agency, or to label them as Khalistanis/Naxals/aandolanjeevis could reinforce alienation from due political processes. The farmers, themselves, need to take a step back and look afresh at the Centre’s offer to keep the laws on hold. Violence, like on January 26, or the beating up of an MLA, undermines the movement, dents its legitimacy and allows lumpens to take over. For its part, the Centre must realise that no one, neither state nor nation, gains from this political standstill. Especially in a state that is headed to polls next year, it is time for the politicians to pick up the threads, and as the people’s representatives, speak to the farmers again. The unnatural political silence must be broken in Punjab.
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