CHANDIGARH: There is a lot being played out on the political chessboard of Punjab against the background of the farmers agitation. State Assembly elections are just a year away and the farmers insist on keeping all political parties at bay --Akali Dal, Congress. Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party---is causing anxiety and heartburn.

While the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and AAP are looking at a revival to have a go at the electoral battle, the BJP is trying to find a foothold after its alliance with the Akalis broke over the repeal of the farm laws. In the midst of all this sits Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh who in a very contentious and difficult situation though things might appear to be in his favour at the present juncture.

While his party’s central leadership has been backing the farm protests, Singh as the chief minister is reported to be keen that the protests end soon. Reports that he had appointed at least two Indian Police Service officers and one agriculture expert to interact with ‘moderate’ voices amidst the agitating farmers has created a hue and cry. Singh has had to come out in strong denial of this, terming the allegations as “baseless and malicious” and asserting that there was no question of appointing cops to negotiate with farmers protesting at the Delhi borders.

He said that since farmer protests had been going on in Punjab for a while now, even before the current agitation, he had merely asked police officers to keep him briefed with regular reports and updates on the situation.

Singh has been compelled by present circumstances to walk a tightrope. The BJP leaders in Punjab have been targeted by the farmers with cow dung being dumped at their doorsteps recently. The agitating farmers have also disrupted the power supply to the mobile towers of a particular corporate house along with a strong campaign urging users to port out from this particular mobile service.

As the Chief Minister and the Home Minister of Punjab, Singh has to take required action on the law and order front but this is inviting flak and opposition. Kisan leaders have pointed to the alleged collusion of the CM with the corporate houses with Singh facing fire from both sides, more so as the said corporate house had set up shop in Punjab following invitations by successive state governments to invest in the state.

Observers point out that it is also a hard fact that Punjab’s economy has taken a hit on account of the farmers’ agitation already reeling under the impact of the Covid pandemic. This does not add to the comfort of the state government during election year with Singh clearly worried about the adverse impact.The state finance minister Manpreet Badal has recently raised the issue, accusing the Centre of holding back Punjab’s Rs 1200 crores rural development fund.

Singh is facing a twin attack from both the Akalis and AAP who have accused him of playing the centre’s card. Recently AAP leaders Raghav Chadha and Kultar Singh Sandhwan said, “"Capt Amarinder Singh is acting at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to save his son Raninder Singh from Enforcement Directorate (ED) cases. For this, he went to meet Amit Shah in Delhi and did not raise any issue related to farmers, thus ignoring the people of Punjab and giving priority to his family." Party leader Bhagwant Mann also raised similar concerns accusing Amarinder of bargaining the interests of the farmers.

Raghav Chadha went on to say that the Punjab government had pretended to convene a special session of the state assembly to repeal the black laws and claimed that new agriculture laws would not be implemented in the state, but since then neither the proceedings of the assembly were sent to the President nor his advocate general took action in the court on this basis.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal took to Twitter saying, “@capt_amarinder has become a puppet of #BJP-led Centre & is suppressing voices against the 3 farm laws. Clearly the Union home ministry knows about Punjab CM's weaknesses & compelling him to register severe cases against protesting voices & hauling them up for punishment.”

Amarinder Singh has come down heavily on both AAP and SAD for politicizing the issue. Attacking the AAP leadership for making illogical allegations, he said the state’s Advocate General Atul Nanda has already prepared and finalized requisite petitions for challenging the three central acts. “Since these Acts impact the lives and futures of our farmers, all decisions will be taken carefully and judiciously at an opportune time,” he said.

The Chief Minister further claimed that although matters related to agriculture are mentioned in List II (State List) of the Constitution of India and fall under the exclusive domain of the state government, the Government of India had enacted the three contentious farm laws under the provisions related to agriculture marketing mentioned in List III (Concurrent List).

Being a central legislation, the state government had limited options under Article 254(2) of the Constitution and it had exercised the same with the Punjab Assembly passing bills to amend the central laws. As per the law of the land any bills passed by the state assembly are mandatorily required to be sent to the Governor, who after studying them has to give his consent for forwarding them to the President for approval. He said the state government is following the laid down procedures and would be taking remedial legal actions after exhausting other options.

In another statement he asked the Akalis and AAP to stop indulging in petty politics over the farm laws. “The issue is not political. It concerns the future of Punjab, our agriculture and the future of our children. If we don’t oppose the black farm laws, we will endanger the future of our children,” he said.

He said he had deliberately chosen not to go to the border of the national capital to express his solidarity with the farmers out of respect for the feelings of the farmers, who have clearly stated that they don’t want any political parties to be involved.

He took a dig at the repeated U-turns of both the opposition parties on the issue, pointing out when the centre first brought in the ordinances, with the clear approval of Harsimrat Kaur Badal as member of the Union Cabinet, he had immediately convened an all-party meet at which the SAD took a wishy-washy stand and even spoke in favour of the laws. As for AAP, they also supported the state government’s stand against the farm laws and their leaders even went with him and the Punjab Congress to submit the assembly resolution and copies of the state amendment laws to the Governor.

Clearly, despite being shunned by the farmers the political parties have set their sight on the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Neither spineless nor traitor like you': Punjab CM Amarinder Singh hits  back at Badal amid farmers protests