‘Apne CM Ko Thanks Kehna Ki Mein Zinda Laut Paaya’
Prime minister Narendra Modi being compelled to cancel his visit to Ferozepur, Punjab to address a public rally following a “security breach” has erupted into a political slugfest in the poll season. He had to return on account of a blockade put up by agitating farmers. While the party political reaction comes on expected lines, what is more interesting are the signals coming from the ground, and how people perceive this development.
It was PM Modi’s first visit to the state after the farmer unrest was triggered by the ramming through of three controversial farm laws that were eventually withdrawn after an unprecedented countrywide farmers’ movement. He was to lay the foundation stones for development works worth Rs 42,750 crore during his visit including a PGI Satellite Centre in Ferozepur and two medical colleges in Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership along with its allies has gone to town attacking the Charanjit Singh Channi led Congress government in Punjab for allowing the Prime Minister’s security to be compromised, the latter hit back, by accusing the saffron party of indulging in politics over the episode while denying the charge. With assembly polls around the corner, the parties too came out attacking the Channi government on the law and order situation prevailing in Punjab.
But people in the state along with the farmers are seeing this as the theatrics of politicians longing for poll dividends, mainly in context of the BJP’s stakes in Uttar Pradesh. Many are also skeptical about Modi and the BJP’s response to the incident, and have expressed fears that the government will impose President’s Rule in the state claiming a collapse of law and order.
Yet the farmers had announced days in advance that they would protest Modi’s visit, to express their anger over the deaths of over 700 of their colleagues in the course of the movement against the farm laws. There were massive protests in almost every village following largescale mobilization by organizations. They had gone from house to house reminding people of the martyrdom of more than 700 farmers, leaving it to them to decide if they still wanted to attend Modi’s rally.
Interestingly the farmers in a gesture intended to soothe tempers invited BJP workers to Join their langar.They announced on public address systems that Baba Nanak's langar was for everyone.
Many people also feel that the “security” narrative being played out, and the standoff between the Centre and Punjab or between the Congress and other parties is not in the interest of the country.
Having landed at Bathinda airport on Wednesday morning, PM Modi reportedly decided to proceed by road instead of a chopper because of bad weather. However, he was stuck on a flyover near Piareana village on the Ferozepur-Moga road because of a farmers’ blockade. It was then that his security team decided to return.
A news agency tweet quoted an official at Bathinda airport saying that Modi had told the officials to convey to their chief minister that he had managed to return alive to Bathinda airport. This is being construed by the people as an attempt to spin a political narrative.
The BJP’s Punjab unit tweeted senior party functionary Smriti Irani as saying, “PM Modi, magnanimous as ever, on his way back, communicated ‘Zinda laut raha hoon!’” – I am returning alive.
Union home minister Amit Shah tweeted, “The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a detailed report on today’s security breach in Punjab. Such dereliction of security procedure in the Prime Minister’s visit is totally unacceptable and accountability will be fixed.”
He followed it up with another tweet saying, “Today’s Congress-made happening in Punjab is a trailer of how this party thinks and functions. Repeated rejections by the people have taken them to the path of insanity. The topmost echelons of the Congress owe an apology to the people of India for what they have done.”
Meanwhile Channi hit back, saying that it was wrong to allege any security lapse or threat to Modi, and the saffron party should not give a political colour to the incident. He said that it was a last minute change in Modi’s decision to proceed by road. The farmers whom the state government had managed to persuade to vacate the roads leading to the venue of the rally with a promise of an audience with the Prime Minister to air their grievances returned to squat there peacefully.
“The Prime Minister had to visit for the inauguration and address a political rally. We regret that he had to return due to blockade en route. After all he would have given something to Punjab,” said Channi.
At the same time the Chief Minister underlined, “I am not going to fire or use force on my people.”
But in the larger context, what eventually comes out of the episode? Political analyst Sumail Sidhu told this reporter, “The martyrdom of more than 700 farmers in Punjab has become a reference point in Punjab politics. Never before has a Prime Minister been compelled to return without addressing a public rally in Punjab. The question being raised by the people is why did you allow more than 700 lives to perish if you had to eventually apologize and withdraw the farm laws?”
Sidhu underlined that even in their blockade on Wednesday, the farmers resorted to a peaceful democratic mode of protest.
“Things have unfortunately come to a pass that when a government violates the Constitution it is let go with the rider that after all it has the people’s mandate. But when the people exercise their democratic rights peacefully they are held in the wrong. The people have given a message that you have lost respect and legitimacy while they have not abandoned their struggle,” he said, emphasising that there is a huge social-cultural capital that has come out of the farmers’ movement.
Even in Modi’s return without addressing the Ferozepur rally, a large number of people are seeing a “strategic victory”.
“Many people are apprehensive of the BJP leadership and its central government raising the bogey of law and order collapse, and fear it may lead to President’s Rule in the state. But they convey at the same time that the BJP will have to pay a heavy political price for such an act.
“The question being asked is what was Modi’s motive in coming to Ferozepur when he wasn’t going to announce any economic package as he has been doing in other states? At the same time it was clear that there would be no political output in Punjab for the BJP from this visit,” said Narayan Dutt of the Inquilabi Kendra Punjab.
According to secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) Baldev Singh Zira, “What Modi did was purely political, aimed at polarizing voters in pollbound states.”
Meanwhile, former chief minister Amarinder Singh whose Punjab Lok Congress has entered into an alliance with the BJP in the state has come out demanding the dismissal of Channi’s government and imposition of President’s Rule in the state.
Singh said that by trying to deflect the issue and claim that it was a spontaneous protest by some people that blocked the Prime Minister’s route, the state government was trying to defend the indefensible and run away from responsibility. “If the Prime Minister of the country has to cancel all his programs owing to a grave security breach, what would be the plight of the ordinary person living in Punjab?”
The Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab president and Lok Sabha member from Sangrur Bhagwant Mann too said, “The responsibility of the security of every single person in Punjab lies with the Punjab government. Irrespective of political differences, the lapse in the security of the Prime Minister is very worrying!”
Even Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) president Sukhbir Singh Badal tweeted, “The major security lapse which occurred enroute PM Modi’s visit to Hussainiwala is reflective of the total collapse of law and order machinery in Punjab. CM @CHARANJITCHANNI is solely to be blamed for this crisis, making it clear that there is no government whatsoever in the state.”
This being the onset of poll season, more party fireworks are expected on this episode in days to come. It remains to be seen who will reap the highest dividend.