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Why is Amarinder threatening to quit?

By Aditi Phadnis
November 04, 2020 14:24 IST
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Although assembly election are 16 months away, it makes sense to let his party know he's very much in the running for the job he's currently holding, notes Aditi Phadnis.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab and considered one of the Congress party's tallest leaders, has threatened to resign.

If he does, this will be the third time.

As in the past, this will be a sacrifice but, as tactics go, a deeply political one for this former army officer.

The first time Singh, a scion of the former Patiala royal family, quit the Lok Sabha and the Congress was in 1984 when the army entered the Golden Temple.

He got the news of Operation Blue Star when he was playing golf near Shimla.

He asked his colleagues in the Congress to accompany him to meet Indira Gandhi in Delhi and tell her how disturbed they all were.

They cried off, citing one or other excuse (one said her child had diarrhoea).

Finally, Singh went alone with just one aide.

Indira Gandhi was not happy.

Rajiv Gandhi called him later to pacify him.

Singh was unmoved. 'Guru Gobind Singh had sent my ancestors a hukumnama ( letter of command to preserve the religion). There was no way that I could turn back from my decision,' he told his biographer.

The move may have been an emotional one, but it was also politically astute.

The second time he resigned from the Lok Sabha was in 2016 against the Supreme Court order on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal that Singh claimed would deprive Punjab farmers of their legitimate right to water.

The resignation made eminent political sense.

He had come to the Lok Sabha after defeating Arun Jaitley from the Amritsar constituency.

State elections were due in Punjab in 2017 and if the Shiromani Akali Dal was to be ousted, only Amarinder Singh could do it.

And he did, trading a Lok Sabha seat for the chief ministership of Punjab.

Now, too, the threat of resignation is a political one.

Having announced that the 2017 election would be his last one, he has changed his mind and said earlier this year he would be contesting the 2022 state polls.

Although still 16 months away, it makes sense to let his party know he is very much in the running for the job he's currently holding.

And what better time to spring this decision when the Opposition is trying to organise and defend itself from the charge that it was a collaborator in actions that are seen as anti-farmer.

Singh has acted swiftly on the opportunity the Centre has handed to him on a platter.

Punjab has been seething over the agricultural reforms introduced by the Centre.

The legislation has caught the Akali Dal on the defensive: and many see the Harsimrat Kaur Badal's resignation from the Union Cabinet as a decision forced on the party after Singh's jeering reminders of the Akali Dal's complicity in the passage of the laws.

In this political game, the actual content of the farm laws is not important.

The perception in Punjab is that the laws will make it harder for farmers to earn a livelihood.

Central to this is the notion that New Delhi will eventually do away with the Minimum Support Price, throwing farmers to the wolves.

This may or may not true.

Punjab's response to the central laws has been to override them and get the assembly to pass laws that will change the Centre's version of the legislation.

The Punjab assembly, thus, passed a Bill that provides for imprisonment of not less than three years for the sale or purchase of wheat or paddy below the MSP.

Another Bill prevents black marketing of food grains.

Farmers owning up to 2.5 acres have also been given protection against the attachment of their land.

All this legislation was supported by the entire Opposition -- Akali Dal, AAP included -- when the assembly passed it.

The two Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs were absent when the Bills were voted -- prompting the Congress to chortle that the BJP had chosen the path of cowardice because it couldn't face the fact that its laws were anti-farmer.

Having achieved what he set out to do, Singh is now asking farmers to ease up on the pressure, knowing perfectly well that it is not possible to keep up passions in a state of white heat.

Farmers had blocked rail tracks from October 1 on a call given by several farmer unions.

Some tracks had been blocked since September 24.

Some goods trains were allowed to pass, given the shortage of fertiliser and other commodities.

It is now Punjab Governor V P S Badnore who is caught in a bind.

He can refuse assent to the laws passed by the assembly.

But that will only fan the flames of farmer rage.

Moreover, it will put the Akali Dal in a big political spot.

If he decides to put his hand in the fire, Singh will have to plot his next move.

One option, though nobody is mentioning it, is the 'E' word, as in early state elections.

And Singh has already announced he's ready for the next one.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Aditi Phadnis
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