New Delhi: For both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the issue of farmers’ protests in Delhi has become one of great importance, as they both have a lot at stake in Punjab, the state from where most of the farmers making their way to Delhi.
While the Congress – right from the start of the protests against the farm laws – has been at the forefront of the agitation, AAP too has done all it could to be seen with the farmers.
AAP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh has been among the visible faces in opposing the laws in the parliament. Throwing weight behind him, the party later joined him to demand the rollback of the controversial laws.
In fact, when the Bills were to be voted on in the parliament, Delhi chief minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal had termed them “anti-farmer” and urged all non-BJP parties to vote against them.
No to converting stadiums into jails
AAP government has continued to oppose the new laws through every available fora. On Friday, it rejected the plea of the Delhi police – acting at the behest of the Central government – to convert nine stadiums in the city into jails to lodge protesting farmers.
A statement issued by the Delhi home ministry and signed by AAP minister Satyendra Jain observed that the demands of farmers were reasonable, and rejected the Delhi police’s application.
“The Centre should immediately accept the demands of the farmers. Putting farmers in prison is not a solution for this. Their agitation is absolutely non-violent. Protesting in a non-violent manner is the constitutional right of every Indian. For that, they cannot be put in jail. Therefore, the Delhi government rejects the application of the Delhi police to convert the stadiums into jail,” the statement read.
Earlier, senior AAP leader and party spokesperson Raghav Chadha had stated that the party had also appealed to the Delhi government to reject the demand of the Delhi police.
He highlighted that it was wrong to put the protesting farmers in prisons. Taking to Twitter, he said, “Right to protest peacefully is enshrined in Indian Constitution – Article 19(1) and protests are the hallmark of a free, democratic society.”
Stakes in Punjab for AAP
The reason why AAP has been using every opportunity to be seen with the farmers is simple – they constitute a large vote bank for any party that seeks to be a political force in Punjab and other north Indian states.
For AAP, this becomes all the more important since Punjab was the only state which sent four of its candidates to Lok Sabha in the 2014 general elections. In the 2017 assembly elections, AAP had in its maiden appearance in the state won 20 seats in the 117-member house. Though Congress had bagged a lion’s share of 77 seats and completely upset all calculations that were at a point projecting AAP to be ahead in the state, the latter polled 23.8% of the votes showing that it still retained considerable clout among the voters in the state.
It is in this light that AAP wants to be seen with the Punjab farmers this time around too.
Congress workers on the ground
On the other hand, the Congress, which has handled the issue reasonably well to its advantage, is leaving no stone unturned to increase its popularity among farmers across the country.
On Friday, its activists were out in strength serving meals to the protesting farmers. The Congress put out images of its workers distributing food and water to farmers who were detained at Khatu Shyam Stadium in Delhi.
Members of Youth Congress distributed food and water to the farmers who have been kept in custody by Delhi Police at Khatu Shyam Stadium. Farmers who are raising their voices against the anti-farmer laws are being arrested in Delhi.#IamWithFarmers pic.twitter.com/iuwfxylwJX
— Punjab Pradesh Congress Sevadal (@SevadalPB) November 27, 2020
It has been this proactive approach of the Congress to reach out to the farmers and to be seen with them in their protests against the farm laws has unnerved other political parties that have been looking to dislodge the grand old party in various states.
Right from the time, it has protested against the introduction of farm Bills in the parliament and has followed up on it in a very systematic manner. States ruled by the Congress, including Punjab, have brought their own laws to reject the Central farm laws and to prevent them from being enforced.
Punjab leading from the front
In fact, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh was among the first to act in this regard. On October 20, a special session of the Punjab assembly was called to reject the Centre’s farm laws and the state passed its own amendment Bills to remove Punjab from the ambit of the Central laws.
The state government had stated that the amendment Bills would “restore the agricultural safeguards for the farmers through the regulatory framework of Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961, to secure and protect the interests and livelihoods of farmers and farm labourers as also all others engaged in agriculture and related activities.”
Punjab’s Bills said 86.2% of the farmers in the state were small and marginal and have limited access to multiple markets and therefore also lack the power to negotiate in the private markets.
It is also pertinent to note that in view of the importance of the issue to the farmers, and in order to not let Congress take all the credit for the protests, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), one of the oldest allies of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance, left the alliance by giving up ministerial berths in the Central government.