Punjab is restive with federal sentiments being pronounced loud and clear once again. Whether it is the issue of Panjab University, the sharing of river waters or opposition to the Agnipath scheme of the centre, federal issues have taken centre stage. And call it political compulsion or its will to take forward the public sentiment, the new Aam Aadmi Party government in the state is airing these concerns.

Developments over the last few days have brought dormant issues alive once again. Observers are comparing the situation to that of a river in spate that can make its way in any direction.

Thursday saw the chief minister, Bhagwant Mann taking the lead in the state assembly to pass a resolution urging the union government to immediately roll back the Agnipath scheme in the larger interest of the country. Punjab is the first state to take this 'historic initiative'.

Moving the resolution Mann stated that the Punjab Vidhan Sabha strongly feels that the scheme where youth will be employed in the armed forces only for a period of four years and of whom only 25% will be retained is neither in the interest of national security nor of the youth of the country. He further read that the policy is likely to create dissatisfaction among those young people who wish to serve the armed forces throughout their life.

The chief minister reminded the house that over one lakh soldiers from Punjab serve in the armed forces and a large number of them sacrifice their lives on the altar of their motherland in safeguarding its borders every year. He appraised the house that the youth of Punjab, known across the globe for their traits of courage and valour, consider it a matter of pride and privilege to serve their motherland by joining the armed forces. Yet this scheme would crush their ambitions to serve as regular soldiers.

Training his guns at the Bharatiya Janata Party led government for this 'whimsical move', Mann dared the BJP leaders to enroll their own sons as Agniveers before supporting this anti-youth move. Asking BJP leaders to explain how the country would combat infiltrators and enemies with an 'army on rent', he cautioned that the Agnipath move would prove fatal for the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country.

The Punjab chief minister said he would soon call on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to impress upon them the need to roll back this move or refer it to the standing committee on defence.

"I will meet and convey to them that they shall either roll back this scheme or the people will force them to do so, as in case of the draconian farm laws," Mann added.

There have been insistent demands from various quarters in the state for the state government to pass such a resolution.

On the same day another important resolution was passed by the assembly opposing the attempt to change the character of the Panjab University in Chandigarh. The matter will now be taken up with the centre.

Presenting the resolution, Higher Education Minister Meet Hayer said that Panjab University is the state's heritage and a matter of identity for Punjabis. He said the state government is firmly committed to safeguarding the rights of Punjab, and that along with Panjab University, Punjab has full rights over its waters and Punjabi speaking areas.

There has been a lot of unrest over the 'attempt being made by some vested interests to push the matter for change of status of Panjab University into a Central University on one pretext or the other'.

The trouble began in May following reports of the Punjab and Haryana High Court directing the central government, through the home ministry and the education ministry to consider the issue of converting the Panjab University, Chandigarh into a Central University.

More than 175 colleges of Punjab are affiliated to Panjab University at present.

In the assembly the minister stated, "The entire territorial jurisdiction and the populace, which the Panjab University is catering to, falls majorly in the state of Punjab, in addition to the area under Union Territory of Chandigarh, which despite many resolutions of this august House has not been restored as the capital of Punjab state alone and continues to be a Union Territory."

Meanwhile, the issue of river water sharing and the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) too has come back centre stage. A song by slain singer Sidhu Moosewala referring to the SYL issue was reportedly taken off YouTube after it had received 29 million hits in two days in a move that has further queered the pitch.

Thursday also saw a massive protest organized by the Kirti Kisan Union on the Chandigarh-Mohali border demanding resolution of the deepening water crisis in Punjab. Despite the paddy sowing and rains, a large number of farmers from different districts participated in the protest.

Leaders including Nirbhai Singh Dhudike, Singh Sultani and Rajinder Singh Deep Singh Wala said that despite being an important agricultural state Punjab faces a severe shortage of water for agriculture. They said the crisis is getting worse by the day due to non-compliance, a lack of proper policies and mismanagement of ground water, river-canal water and rain water.

A statement issued by Raminder Singh Patiala of the Kirti Kisan Union said, "The right to water of the state has been robbed by the union government through the Dam Security Act under the agenda of centralization." The protesting leaders demanded the repeal of this law and asked the Punjab government to stand for the defence of federal structure of the Constitution and pass a resolution in the assembly to repeal the act.

They also urged the Punjab and union governments to resolve the river water disputes between states under the riparian principle as the issue of agricultural diversification and water was inseparably linked.

The Dam Safety Act of 2021 provides for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams to prevent dam-failure related disasters and an institutional mechanism to ensure their safe functioning and incidental and connected matters. There has been opposition to the Act from various quarters alleging that it takes away the rights of the states over waters.

Reacting to the emerging scenario, former professor Manjit Singh who is a sociologist and a keen political observer said the imprint of the recent people's movement that began as a farmers' movement against the three controversial farm laws can be seen on these developments. "The movement generated a lot of awareness among the people on issues," he said.

Referring to the political aspects, he said "The AAP government passing resolutions on Agnipath scheme and Panjab University is a compulsion. It is a culmination of the same process that first brought AAP to power and recently saw Simranjit Singh Mann getting elected to the Parliament. The people were so angry with the Akalis and the Congress that they expressed their anger by electing AAP and later Simranjit Singh Mann."

In fact the AAP government's resolution on Agnipath has surprised many as people did not expect Mann to take precedence over Delhi Chief Minister and party national convenor Arvind Kejriwal on the issue.

Protest on the Chandigarh-Mohali border