Punjab and Haryana is on roads for more than a month now. The political parties have tried to reap off the juice whenever they could but have failed in extracting anything out of these protests.
One has to appreciate the collective efforts of farm unions in keeping political elements out of their struggle. The struggle will be long and no political party is willing to endure the long struggles seems to be the thought behind it. The record of political parties in Punjab when it comes to farmers is also not very good. Backstabbing is a common phenomena in Punjab politics which is another reason to keep the vultures out of struggle.
Some experts are of the opinion that not providing the stage to political parties has kept the struggle away from national coverage that it deserves, while some others argue that national coverage is directly controlled by Delhi and has maintained the policy of showing ‘no dissent exists’. While both the sides have their valid points, here is exactly why the political parties have been kept away from stage of farm unions.
31 Farm unions of Punjab have always been split on their agendas and have rarely been under one roof. This has a lot of sub text with the top leadership of the farm unions being bought by whoever is in power in Punjab. Akalis owned more than half of the farm unions when Prakash singh Badal was active in politics. Akalis got in bad books of farm unions when they started putting party interests over farmer’s interests. Congress never really enjoyed any major support from farm unions except in bursts.
Farm unions believe that giving stage to political parties will divide the farmer movement into Akali farmers VS Congress farmers Vs AAP Farmers Vs BJP farmers (if that exists at all). The key decisions to keep political parties out were taken at the start of the struggle and farm unions have made sure that they DO NOT attend any meeting with any political party without representation from all 31 unions. This indeed is something to learn.
What lies ahead?
Captain Amrinder singh met farm unions before Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Punjab and assured them that he will call Punjab Assembly session to pass resolution against the Centre passed bills. However he changed his tones after Rahul Gandhi visited & gave a statement that since bills have been passed people should pick Rahul Gandhi in 2024 for him to undo the bills which is not only seen as an oxymoron but also backstabbing by farmers.
The concerns are- Why would Rahul Gandhi undo the bills that were and are still part of his manifesto in 2019? The second important concern that has become sore for Captain is going back on his promise of calling Assembly session. Captain may have ignored Akalis for their demand to call session but farmers are in no mood to listen. Angry captain therefore has issued a statement much to disappointment of farmers that farmers cannot dictate when the session should be called. This has proven farm unions right again in not trusting any political party.
So what lies ahead in protests? BJP think tank has been working hard to make farmers believe in every story but are not willing to put anything to paper. Farmer anger is increasing every day and episodes of BJP workers and ministers facing that anger in Punjab is everyday news in local newspapers. BJP’s Tarun Chug’s statements of threatening farmers has not gone down well with the unions. Tarun clarified after facing heat that he meant “congress workers in his statement”. Tarun had said that anyone who would stop or surround BJP workers will go back on stretchers. Similarly statements from Aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri have been criticised by Akali workers and farmers as well.
With so much bad mouthing for farmers both by party spokesmen & IT cell, BJP still managed to bring out an invite for the farmers to talk. Farm unions have unanimously decided to boycott any talk that takes place prior to quashing of the bills. “This is no negotiation, we aren’t selling and they aren’t buying”, says Farm union leader. Farm unions have been very vocal about meeting Agricultural Minister Tomar and Prime Minister. They have maintained that they would not meet anyone else. BJP meanwhile maintains that all demands will be understood if farmers talk. This has reached a deadlock situation for farmers.
Captain Amrinder singh yesterday in a statement said that the protests should not go on for long time for it affects the economy of the state. He stressed that stopping trains affects the economy and he will not allow it. Supreme Court echoed in a statement regarding Shaheen Bagh yesterday that protests like Shaheen Bagh are well within the framework of constitution and are allowed but not at the cost of right of people to movement. This implies that if roads and trains are blocked by protestors, Supreme Court has ordered that local administration should do everything possible to move protestors to other regions where they don’t halt traffic or trains. This judgement is opined by many as a way to kill Punjab protests because it has come at a time when it was not needed at all, Shaheen bagh has died down and even if SC wanted to set up a ground rule, this time is apt for centre to use it. Does this mean we could see farmers against police very soon? Yes.
It is worth mentioning here that the struggle of farmers is far from over. Farmers will be subjected to more bad mouthing when stubble is burnt. The protests that have started against the bills are likely to get more legs with Combine owners and other orgs stepping in. The times ahead are tough for farmers and most likely everyone who has jumped into sudden activism around farm bills are likely to forget it, farmers will be struggling around it against deaf state government and blind central government.