A frenzy of protests over a troika of contentious central farm legal guidelines and break-up of the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance has dramatically reshaped Punjab’s political panorama. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh misplaced no time to grab on a doubtlessly game-changing developments to lift his inventory, and that of his celebration, with the Sikh peasantry and arhtiyas, predominantly Hindus, and outwit the opposition – all with a watch firmly on the following meeting elections in early 2022.
At 78, the erstwhile Patiala royal’s razor-sharp political intuition is now more and more on show as he navigates the twin hotspots – of an unrelenting farmers’ fury, and of the coronavirus that has made Punjab one of many seven worst-hit states. In an hour-long interview with Govt Editor Ramesh Vinayak on Friday at his sprawling, lush farm home, Mohinder Bagh, named after his mom, within the Shivalik foothills close to Chandigarh, the Captain candidly spoke on a spread of points. Edited excerpts:
Punjab is the epicentre of protests in opposition to three farm legal guidelines. What’s the major difficulty? Is it minimal help worth (MSP), or lack of market charges/taxes, or federalism?
After all, it’s all three. It’s a whole assault on federalism. They (the Centre) have taken away our taxation, water and agriculture. What’s left with the state? The farmer is worried. Take the case of paddy. Until 1966 when the Inexperienced Revolution got here to Punjab, no person grew this crop. Solely when farmers noticed cash in it, did they begin rice cultivation. Each farmer in Punjab grows paddy and wheat apart from cotton within the south western districts. Now, a farmer received’t know the way a lot he’ll get for his crop. How is he going to outlive? 75% of our farmers are below 5 acres; half of them below two acres. These poor fellows don’t even know the place their livelihood will come from.
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What’s the manner ahead to interrupt the logjam?
I don’t know. This (the enactment of farm legal guidelines) is predicated on the Shanta Kumar Committee report that mentioned the Meals Company of India is a waste of cash and so is the MSP. How Mr Shanta Kumar reached this conclusion is his enterprise. However as soon as it comes right down to the Authorities of India, they need to look into it. What have they got the NITI Aayog for? It’s their enterprise to look into this and see whether or not it’s appropriate or not. You’ve received Madhya Pradesh and different river basin states rising wheat, the Centre shouldn’t be dependent a lot on Punjab. So that you at the moment are turning a again on Punjab that fed this nation for 60 years.
Has the framework on federalism come below extra pressure because the Covid-19 outbreak?
That’s evident even within the items and providers tax (GST) which is a constitutional assure by Parliament that the state will get its dues each quarter. I’ve not had any cash since March. It’s the seventh month. How do I run the federal government? The explanation I vouched for reopening liquor vends regardless of the pandemic was that there was no different income than excise responsibility. The Narendra Modi authorities doesn’t perceive the implications. They didn’t assume this response to farm legal guidelines will come from Punjab. The protests will not be occurring in different states as a result of they occur to be BJP-ruled. However farmers throughout are feeling the identical manner.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union agriculture minister have repeatedly assured that MSP will keep. The Centre has even declared the MSP for Rabi crops sooner than schedule. Why do you doubt them?
In the event that they have been severe about it, why didn’t they put it within the Act? They may have mentioned that MSP goes to remain and that FCI or no matter company it’s, goes to do the shopping for. They didn’t do it. That is solely the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister saying so. Tomorrow, if Mr Modi shouldn’t be the PM or Mr Narendra Singh Tomar shouldn’t be holding agriculture, will their dedication maintain?
How come the Congress, which when in energy within the early ’90s had ushered within the defining reforms, is now against farm sector reforms that the BJP authorities calls lengthy overdue and transformative?
What is going to they remodel? The Modi authorities says the farm legal guidelines will open agriculture to the company world. Who says this not already open to company sector? In Punjab, now we have Pepsi and ITC shopping for potatoes. All my kinnows from Hoshiarpur and Ferozepur are going to Chennai. The system is already open. So, the Centre’s logic is only a lame excuse.
Is the MSP regime not the most important stumbling block in diversification that Punjab desperately wants?
The MSP works just for wheat, paddy and cotton. The Centre declares MSP on many crops however there is no such thing as a worth help company. The day we mentioned the farm payments within the particular meeting session final month, the MSP for maize was Rs 1,850 per quintal. However, in Hoshiarpur mandis, it was promoting at Rs 600.
The ruling BJP says the Congress desires that the MSP be made a authorized proper which it by no means did whereas ruling the nation for seven many years?
The purpose shouldn’t be a authorized proper. It (MSP) was taken with no consideration because the 1960s. It has been persevering with since and no authorities, not even the non-Congress ones, ever opposed it. Right here, we’re not saying that you just deliver a regulation. All we’re asking for is that make an modification within the farm legal guidelines to make sure that MSP continues the best way it has all these years.
Additionally Learn: MSP, APMC buzzwords in controversy over payments
You mentioned Pakistan could exploit the unrest amongst farmers. However, your celebration can be stoking the farmers’ agitation. Isn’t this contradictory?
I don’t have to inform the individuals to agitate. They’re agitating on their very own. When any individual doesn’t have meals to feed his kids, he might be protesting on his personal. Have a look at the drama the Akalis did on Thursday with their protest marches. As a result of they realised that that’s how individuals on the bottom really feel. Earlier than that, they needed to make a 180-degree flip of their stance, pull this lady (Harsimrat) out after which withdraw from the Nationwide Democratic Alliance.
All Punjab events and farmers are in protest mode. However, the Centre has dominated out any re-think on farm legal guidelines. The place will all this result in?
That is dependent upon how lengthy the authorized system takes to redress the difficulty. I don’t see them (the Centre) relenting on this. I can communicate for Punjab. Sadly, this Centre doesn’t perceive agriculture. One thing is improper with the entire system. 65% of India in villages lives on agriculture. The MSP is just in North India. But when costs begin crashing in different states, there’s going to be a giant hue and cry.
Some quarters argue why the state can’t stand assure for the MSP. In any case, agriculture is a state topic?
We don’t have the cash. They (the Centre) have taken away every little thing. I’ve received nothing with me. We (the state governments) are actually going to be utterly simply residing on central charity. That’s what it’s coming to.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has requested chief ministers of Congress-ruled states to search out the best way out to override the farm legal guidelines? Can the state legislature cross a Invoice to invalidate the central regulation?
That is topic to Presidential assent. This President shouldn’t be going to approve it. Take the case of the Act we handed on scrapping the interstate water treaties in 2004. The Punjab governor signed it after which forwarded it to the President, who referred it as Presidential reference to the Supreme Courtroom. However, right here (in farm legal guidelines) even this governor shouldn’t be going to signal such a Invoice handed by the Punjab meeting. If he doesn’t try this, it won’t go to the President.
Then, what are the choices in your desk?
As of now, a authorized recourse is the one possibility. We’re going to do that (problem the farm legal guidelines) on grounds of violation of the federal construction. My authorized crew is on the job. We’re going to struggle it out. As soon as they’ve modified the regulation, it’s a must to problem the regulation. The Centre can’t inform us what to do and what to not do. Tomorrow, if I go for crop diversification, am I going to take the Authorities of India’s approval? It i s my drawback. Why ought to they intervene in our affairs?
There’s a suggestion that the Punjab meeting can bypass part of the central legal guidelines by declaring your entire state a principal advertising and marketing yard. Is that doable?
That must be legally checked. The one difficulty once more is that even when the meeting passes it, the governor received’t cross it.
Each the BJP and Akalis insist that the Congress manifestos promised privatisation of mandis on the identical strains as the brand new farm legal guidelines.
Our 2017 Punjab manifesto mentioned we are going to improve the mandis by 1,000, which by the way we needed to do within the final paddy season as a consequence of Covid-19. We had promised to strengthen the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) with out tinkering with the MSP. Our Lok Sabha ballot manifesto of 2017 mentioned we are going to eliminate the APMC Act however have farmers’ markets. We by no means mentioned we are going to do with the MSP or privatise it.
How will the BJP-SAD break-up change Punjab’s political terrain?
It is going to definitely change it. After popping out of the ruling NDA, Akalis are going to lose the bottom an awesome deal. They know that. They felt that they are going to be completely destroyed if they didn’t come out of the alliance. However frankly, I don’t belief them. One month earlier than the polls, they might be part of up once more. ‘Ihna da koi itbar tan hain nahin (You may’t belief them).’
The Akalis could escalate their agitation to morcha mode?
That’s their outdated tactic. Every time they’re in disaster, they elevate an outcry of the Panth in disaster. At present, for them, the Panth means Mr and Mrs Badal.
Now that Congress in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat has reached out to your estranged MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu and known as him an asset to the celebration, what function do you see for Sidhu within the authorities and the celebration?
I don’t have any drawback with Sidhu or Mr Rawat brokering peace. I’ve identified Sidhu from the age of two. He’s a Patiala boy. I’ve no drawback with him. Placing any individual someplace in a job is all the time achieved on the idea of what job that individual is nice at doing. He didn’t like my altering his ministry from native our bodies to energy. He’s welcome to come back as energy minister, not as native our bodies. His job is open. Energy is essential to me in addition to Punjab.
What if he doesn’t settle for this provide?
Then, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t change my ministers. They’re all doing a superb job. Why ought to I modify them to go well with any individual else?
How open are you to creating him Punjab Congress chief?
I’m very pleased with my PCC chief (Sunil Jakhar), who’s doing an awesome job. Why ought to he make manner for any individual? One, you want a PCC chief who understands everyone within the state. Mr Jakhar has lived his complete life within the Congress. Why ought to any individual who joined the celebration three years in the past develop into the president? I don’t assume that may be a honest request if he (Sidhu) requested for it. He can ask for different issues. Our nationwide celebration could make use of him. I could make use of him within the ministry on energy.
What are the possibilities of burying the hatchet with insurgent MPs Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo?
I don’t have any drawback with both. They’ve their very own (issues). Each fourth day, Bajwa places out a letter he claims to have written to me that I by no means obtain. He claims that I received his job as PCC chief. If the Congress president introduced me and eliminated Bajwa, she should have had concerns to do it. I didn’t like just one factor about Dullo. Once I was main the celebration into the 2017 elections, his son stood because the Aam Aadmi Get together candidate. And, Dullo, himself a former PCC chief, was serving to his son. That’s not on.
Each have been strident critics of your authorities.
Are they going to say that I’m doing an awesome job? Clearly not. If you wish to demolish any individual, it’s a must to discover one thing to demolish him with.
Are you all set to steer the celebration within the 2022 meeting elections?
I feel so. Politically, Punjab is in a fine condition: There are 4 Akali Dals, and the BJP is by itself. We’re very glad.