Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday launched a dharna in New Delhi to protest against the Centre's new farm legislation and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of meting out 'step-motherly' treatment towards the state.
He said the farmer's agitation in Punjab against the new farm laws could lead to 'serious consequences' for national security and alleged that China and Pakistan were seeking to disturb peace in the country's border state.
Stressing that his intention was not to disturb peace, Singh said he was trying to 'save' his state's farmers as the Centre was 'playing with' their livelihoods.
Addressing the dharna, which was shifted to Jantar Mantar from Rajghat after Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure (Prohibiting assembly of four or more persons) was imposed there, Singh hit out at the Centre saying it was not cooperating with the state authorities to end the rail and road blockade which was hurting Punjab's interests.
"What do you gain by replacing one system with another system that cannot work in Punjab. Nobody is stopping anyone from buying from farmers, but do not disturb the existing system that is working fine," Singh said.
"My ministers are in dialogue with farmer unions and are trying to convince them. There are two things that no ruler should tinker with -- one is religion and the other is livelihood.
"Don't touch religion and livelihood as agitations take place when you tinker with them," he said.
All Congress MLAs and MPs from Punjab sat on a dharna along with the chief minister, who was also joined by Lok Insaaf Party legislator Simranjit Singh Bains, Punjabi Ekta Party MLA Sukhpal Khaira and Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) MLA Parminder Singh Dhindsa.
Asserting that 'we are here not to disturb peace but to preserve it', the chief minister said he was in Delhi not to confront the Centre but to fight for justice for the poor farmers whose livelihood was at stake due to the central farm laws.
Singh said he and other MLAs from Punjab were compelled to come to Delhi as the President had declined their request for a meeting on the plea that the state amendment Bills were still lying with the Governor.
He said he knew the Governor had still not forwarded the Bills even though he had no role to play in the matter, and said he had wanted to meet the President as it was his duty to apprise the head of the country about the state of national security and food security in Punjab.
As far as the state's Bills were concerned, he expressed the hope that the President will give full assent to them, following the precedent of former President Pranab Mukherjee who had assented the Bills passed by Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states under Article 254-II (on law made by state legislature receiving President's assent) on the suggestion of former Union minister Arun Jaitley.
He reiterated his warning that any move by any government to tinker with religion or livelihood of the people was bound to trigger resentment and anger and said farmers were protesting as the new central laws will destroy them and snatch their livelihoods.
The chief minister warned that failure to resolve the issues of the farmers would lead to unrest, as both China and Pakistan would try to exploit the situation to the detriment of national security.
He said there was threat at the borders with Pakistan which tried to carry out smuggling of drugs and weapons for terrorists and gangsters into Punjab through drones every day.
"If trouble erupts in Punjab, the entire nation's security would be at stake", he said.
Highlighting the crisis faced by Punjab due to the decision of the Railways not to ply goods trains in the state, the chief minister said contrary to the misinformation being spread, tracks were currently blocked at only two places which were off the main lines and connected to two private power plants.
He claimed the farmers are fighting against the corporates and thus were not allowing supplies on these two tracks, adding that all the other lines were open.
He said he had spoken to Railway Minster Piyush Goyal and even assured him that the Punjab Police would help the RPF maintain security at the stations and along the tracks to allow goods trains.
Questioning the rationale behind the Centre's refusal to allow trains to ply in Punjab, Singh said this decision was obstructing movement of essential supplies not just in Punjab, which had run out of coal and power, storage for foodgrains and fertiliser, but also to other states, including the armed forces in Ladakh and Kashmir.
Singh also alleged that the Aam Aadmi Party had been 'pressured' not to join the dharna as its government in Delhi had not passed amendment bills to protect farmers.
He also trashed claims that Punjab's farmers were resorting to anti-national activities, pointing out that their agitation against the farm laws had been completely peaceful.
Singh said Punjabis are deployed at the borders and were fighting for the country at many tough terrains and have shed their blood to ensure the nation's safety and security, adding that no citizen of Punjab would ever think about indulging in any anti-national activity.
Addressing the dharna at Jantar Mantar, where he reached after paying his respects at Rajghat, the chief minister expressed the hope that the central government will look at Punjab and its problems in the backdrop of the sacrifices made by Punjabis through the decades.
Meanwhile, farmer bodies in Punjab that are protesting against the central farm laws on Wednesday asserted there were presently no blockades of railway tracks and the platforms would be vacated, as they slammed the Centre over the power crisis in the state.
Coal supplies to thermal power plants in Punjab have been severely affected after the Railways suspended the operation of freight trains due to the blockade of some tracks by farmers over the three new contentious legislations.
The farmer outfits claim they are not protesting on the rail tracks now, but near it and on the platforms, while the Railways maintain that the agitation is still continuing on some tracks.
The organisations announced that they would allow the movement of goods trains in the state for 15 more days, as they gear up for the proposed nationwide road blockade on Thursday.
"The attitude of the central government towards the state is not only anti-farmer, but also anti-Punjab," Kulwant Singh Sandhu, general secretary of the Jamhoori Kisna Sabha, told the media in Chandigarh.
"Central ministers are not ready to meet and the President has not given time to meet the state government representatives," he said.
"They are indulging in arm twisting, and trying to suppress farmers and labourers' voice."
Sandhu said the state industry was on the verge of closure and 12 lakh labourers had lost their jobs.
"Coal is not coming, there is a shortage of urea and DAP (diammonium phosphate), and the power cuts in the state are being imposed," said Sandhu, pointing towards the impact of the suspension of goods trains by the Railways.
Earlier, protesting farmers had announced to allow movement of freight trains till November 5.
However, the Railways later decided to extend the suspension, saying protesting farmers were still blocking the tracks.
It has also been demanding that the agitators should vacate the platforms.
Sharing details about the decisions taken by the representatives of 30 farmer outfits, Sandhu said goods trains would be allowed for 15 more days in the state, keeping in mind the requirements of the trade and industry, and for the supply of fertilisers for crops.
Sandhu said all the main tracks were clear.
"Nobody is sitting on the tracks," he said, asking whether any farmer had created a problem in its operation when the Railways ran goods trains for two days.
The farmer leader said the railways stations would also be vacated.
"We will sit in the park outside the railway stations," he said.
On some farmer bodies that were not clearing the tracks, Sandhu said they have told the state government representatives these organisations were not their part.
Members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) are squatting on two rail tracks that lead to coal supplies to two private thermal plants at Rajpura and Mansa. Protesters under the banner of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee are also sitting on a rail track in Amritsar.
However, he said that their protests outside the residence of BJP leaders, shopping malls of some corporate houses, toll plazas would continue.
Sandhu added that the Punjab farmer bodies would participate in the proposed nationwide 'chakka jam' (road blockade) on November 5.
Over 300 farmer organisations had jointly announced last month to block various highways and roads across the country on Thursday in protest against the central farm laws.