IN ANNOUNCING his plan to form a new political party and also indicating that he was “hopeful of a seat arrangement with BJP in 2022 Punjab Assembly polls if farmers’ protest is resolved in farmers’ interest”, former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh may have inadvertently – or was it planned? – let the cat out of the bag. The Narendra Modi government may be mulling ways to resolve the almost-a-year-long impasse over the three contentious farm laws.
While the protesting farmers, despite dozens of deaths in their ranks and attempts to dub their protests anti-India, pro-Khalistan, etc – have held firm in their commitment to a peaceful struggle to force the Union government to take back the three laws, the Modi government has also not softened its stand, refusing to budge from its stated position that the laws are good for the ordinary farmer and it was open to an unconditional dialogue with the farmers.
But, facing a tough election in Uttar Pradesh next year, where also the farmers have shown ample resilience and where the ruling BJP is now on the backfoot post the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, where Ashish Mishra, son of the Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, and his supporters allegedly mowed down a group of innocent farmers, the Central government may be doing a rethink.
Will a resolution “in famers’ interest”, as Capt referred to it as, translate into the Union government announcing that it would get the three laws annulled or amended and ensure that the minimum support price (MSP) would be made a legal option for majority of the crops – a major demand by the protesting farmers?
While nothing is certain, that is something the protesting farmers may agree on and lift their ongoing dharnas. It would, however, be interesting to see how the Centre plans to do this since, by its own calculations, the total MSP Bill – experts have questioned the government’s figures too – could be about Rs 17 lakh crore per year.
By all accounts, without a legally mandated, guaranteed MSP, the possibility of protesting farmers ending their stir seems a difficult ask. As for the Modi government, which has so far refused to yield too much to the farmers, the MSP demand may be the face-saver it has been desperately seeking. The question is: Will both sides give up their stiff stance and indulge in some good-old give-and-take kind of negotiations.
That may be easier said than done since the farmers may or may not give up that easily.
As for Capt Amarinder, his bravado notwithstanding, setting up a new party from scratch, even if backed by a national party like the BJP, is never easy. Amarinder himself isn’t exactly known for his hardworking style of functioning, content with letting others undertake the daily grind while not dirtying his own hands. This works well if you are running a majority government and have the excuse of limited physical movement due to Covid restrictions. But will it work when you have no government machinery at your disposal when suddenly you realize that the hangers-on are no longer ready to take your orders silently?
He may yet attract some sitting Congress MLAs to his flock but these may be the MLAs who may not be assured of being renominated by their party. The trick, if the Captain wants to be taken seriously as a contender in next year’s Assembly elections, is to wean away some ministers. With his political journey at a virtual crossroads, the chances of this happening look bleak.
And then there is the issue of his yet-to-be-formed party getting into a tie-up with the former Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, who formed the Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) after being ousted from the Parkash Singh Badal-Sukhbir Singh Badal-controlled Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) last year.
Despite Amarinder’s overture, both Dhindsa and Brahmpura, both influential Panthic leaders, would wait to see which way the wind blows before revealing their cards. For them, any move to tie up with the BJP’s B-team, as several of his opponents are already terming Capt Amarinder, could be political suicide and, seasoned politicians that they are, they will consider every pros-and-con before taking the dive.
Many in Punjab feel the Captain’s real endgame is to spite the man who single-handedly ensured his ouster as Chief Minister – Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Navjot Singh Sidhu. It remains to be seen to what extent Capt Amarinder will actually go to ensure the political decimation of Sidhu.
Maneesh Chhibber is a Contributing Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.