And Centre still sees it as Punjab problem, eye on poll-bound states

5 months ago 30
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 Politics, Sidhu’s absence, and lunchThe view in the government and ruling party is that the issue is “potent” in Punjab but protests in Haryana, Western UP and parts of Rajasthan have different political imperatives. (File)

ONE month since a section of the farmers’ protests veered off course and turned violent at Red Fort, the stand-off between farmers and the government has turned into a battle of attrition with each side hoping the other will wear down and concede — even without talking to each other.

The Government is of the view that it has lobbed the ball in the farmers’ court after its 18-month hold offer on January 20 and farmers believe the onus is on the establishment to step forward and secure a resolution.

“The agitation has lost its edge, it doesn’t have popular support among masses outside Punjab. It will resolve itself with time,” said a senior BJP leader who was part of the meeting of office-bearers addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last weekend.

At the meeting, a source said, the leadership’s message was that the farm agitation, three months on after the sit-in began on the capital’s outskirts, was steered by “anti-BJP elements” and the party needs to “wean” the farmers away. In a clear indication that repeal was off the table, the resolution passed by the party endorsed the three farm laws.

Reinforcing this message is also the very visible campaigning by the party’s top brass for the poll-bound states seemingly unperturbed by the farm protests. In fact, except for Modi’s appeal to farmers in Parliament that doors were always open, there has been no overture from either side to resume the dialogue.

“There is no back channel. Whatever proposals had to be made have been made during the 11 rounds of talks,” said a senior official from Agriculture Ministry. “Jo stithi bani hui hai wah bani hui hai (the situation is as it is). It can be resolved if the other side (farmers) want to resolve it,” said another official.

The view in the government and ruling party is that the issue is “potent” in Punjab but protests in Haryana, Western UP and parts of Rajasthan have different political imperatives.

“Punjab ke aage zameen nahin hai (it lacks depth outside Punjab). In Haryana, it is Jats protesting against the second term of a non-Jat dispensation. In western UP, the Jats are asserting themselves before elections. Tikait is burnishing his politics. In Rajasthan, protests are politically mobilized in areas which are not essentially hard core BJP bases,” said a senior BJP leader when asked about the party’s assessment of the mobilisation since Republic Day.

“Punjab is the nub, the Government understands this. That is why it deliberately did not use force during the protests on Republic Day,” said a senior leader. He added that the Government had taken note of the security concerns flagged by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

Haryana is a cause for worry for some in the party given the ongoing mahapanchayats although the fact that state elections are four years away is seen as a cushion for the party and the government.

That protests have got leaders from Congress, AAP, INLD, RLD organizing their own public meetings has given an opportunity to the BJP to portray this as a political battle waged by its opponents who are firing from farmers’ shoulders.

Party leaders, however, admit that activist Disha Ravi’s arrest in the Toolkit case, the bail order, and embedding nails on the roads have been “poor political optics.” But they still claim this is not playing out in any election-bound state and not going beyond the “a section of anti-BJP intellectuals.”

At the same time, the BJP is aware that the Red Fort violence which had threatened to erode the farmers’ moral authority is now history; the Ghazipur gathering and the way farmers’ took a strong stand against the violence put paid to that. “Kicking the can down the road will only hurt the Government, not the protesting farmer,” said a senior leader. “Something needs to give.”

Worries have been voiced by RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi in January that prolonged agitations are not “good for the health of society.” Also, the isolation of the BJP in Punjab and the exit of the Akali Dal from the NDA have deepened anxieties of a Hindu-Sikh division. The protests also cast a shadow on the Government’s Budget initiatives and its new emphasis on the role of the private sector in the economy.

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