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Punjab reaches out to Centre and farmers, proposes longer pause

Wary of the protracted farmers’ agitation in the capital and the Republic Day incident at Red Fort, the Punjab government has stepped up efforts to reach out to the Centre to work towards an early resolution, sources told The Indian Express.

Some top state officials have been camping in Delhi and are in constant touch with both the protesting farmers and the Centre.

There were concerns in the state government that after the Nishan Sahib was hoisted at Red Fort,the agitation would fizzle out and farmers would return empty-handed.

“Everybody here knows that if farmers come back without getting anything after these weeks and months of protests, anger will mount in the state. That would be a perfect breeding ground for resentment and we cannot afford that,” said a top state government functionary.

That’s why, sources said, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh invoked Operation Blue Star at the all-party meeting this week and warned that Pakistan could “exploit” the situation to foment trouble.

“Thanks to Rakesh Tikait, the agitation has got a new lease of life. If another Red Fort-like incident happens, it will be difficult for the leaders to sustain the agitation. Wisdom lies in taking it to a logical conclusion and save Punjab from any after-effects,” said a source who is aware of discussions between the state and the Centre.

He said the state is trying to impress upon the Centre to repeal the laws but the Centre is “willing to do anything other than repeal.” So one option the state has proposed is to put the laws on hold for three years instead of the earlier offer of 18 months.“The farmers leaders had not agreed then. But now we are working on both the farmers as well as the Centre to make sure that the agitation is called off soon. If we can get the laws on hold until 2024 — which means the next elections — we can then work on the farmers to back down. After the Republic Day incident,we all have learnt our lessons. We will have to agree on something,” said the source.

“The Centre also acknowledges that if there is trouble in Punjab, that could have a spill-over effect across the country,” said the source.

Asked what was the time frame the state was looking at, the source said: “It should not take long.”

Sources said the Punjab CMO has briefed its officials as well as farm unions that talks with the Centre should continue.“The communication channel should not break. There may not be any solution but meetings should continue.,” said the source.

Those aware of these talks say the farmers’ reservation against suspension of laws was that there was “huge pressure” from people back home. “Farmer leaders feel that if they come back with anything less than a repeal, people, who have been supporting the agitation will feel let down,” said the source.

He added that public support to the agitation has been strong. After the Red Fort incident, village panchayats are working to keep the agitation going.“Funds are being made available. Panchayats have bought new tractors to ensure that supporters reach Delhi and the numbers don’t dwindle.”



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