Is 18-year-old Greta Thunberg going to tell us how to run the arhtiya system? We cut a sorry figure in the world, says Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, in an interview to The Indian Express. Excerpts:
How will the impasse over the farm laws end? After the 11th round of talks, just under half of the 32 farmer unions were in favour of accepting the Government’s offer of keeping the farm laws on hold for 18 months…
Every war has to end. It does not matter if it is World War II or the war (with the farmers) which is going on here, it has to end. And it has to end at the negotiating table. There is no other way.
They did not want politicians to be involved in the talks so we have kept out of it. I have not met anyone from the Centre, either the Prime Minister or the Home Minister over this. But from what I understand is that some of them are agreeable to (the laws being on hold for) 18 months but it may go up to 24 months. Other than that, there are those three major laws and I think they are also considering, perhaps, amending those Bills and withdrawing one or so of them. Now, if that happens it is good because you know at a negotiating table you have to give and take.
No further talks with the farmer unions are scheduled now. Is there a hiatus?
From what we understand, there are constant discussions taking place at various levels with various groups. By and large, people will be happy to have a negotiated settlement.
Don’t forget that the wheat harvesting comes in within a month and farmers have to be back. Other cropping is going on now. You also must remember that this agitation doesn’t have very many big farmers. It’s all being run by small farmers who own half an acre, two acres, three acres. These people have to come back to their land.
So is it your impression or information that there is an offer to the farmers for the Bills being kept in abeyance for 24 months?
It’s not my impression. This is what we hear from various groups which are working that there is talk within the farmer community that the Government may come (around) to 24 months. Now, if they are offering 18 months and the farmers are demanding three years, somewhere a compromise may come in at two years. That’s what we have heard. We keep meeting the farmers, some messages come directly, some indirectly.
What’s your assessment? Can the 18-month period be stretched longer?
That is up to the government to decide. They probably want to finish it before the next General Election and go for three years. This is no information, but my guess is that they may agree on two years. But again, this is my guess. This is the common talk in farming circles. I think this is something that everyone wants a resolution for… Do you know how Punjab is suffering? Even today, we have farmers sitting in protest at 122 locations, petrol pumps and so on.
You had warned about pro-Khalistani factions infiltrating the movement. Now, post January 26, the Delhi Police has booked cases against activists alleging Khalistani links. You even passed a resolution in the Assembly flagging this…
You must remember: what suits Pakistan is a disturbed Punjab. They have a disturbed Kashmir; now a disturbed Punjab so they can contend with us in one way or the other. Now, the danger also lies more in the close collaboration between China and Pakistan. And it would suit them to do something here.
We have information that there are a lot of weapons coming into Punjab since the farmers agitation started, since October certainly. Now sleeper cells in Punjab don’t have recruits to use these weapons. So where do you get new recruits? You will get them from people who are agitating and angry. We must think how many of these youngsters sitting there (at the agitations) can be worked on by these guys? There will be some. It can be a recruitment ground. The object is to start disturbed conditions in Punjab.
You mentioned dropping of weapons via drones? Have you informed the Centre?
First, weapons used to come in through the riverine border, by digging tunnels. Now they are delivering via drones. If we catch two drones, how many have they launched? Nobody knows the destination, the numbers. That is why I met the Union Home Minister. People thought I had gone to talk on behalf of the farmers but that was not it. That day we had six or seven drones.
We have the BSF and the Air Force but they don’t have the capability to tackle this. The Home Minister said they are looking into it… eventually it is my State which is going to suffer. And this drone supply is continuing and this is what is worrying me. What we need is radars to pick up low flying drones and capacity to shoot them down. Many countries have this capability.
There has been criticism of foreign activists like Greta Thunberg and Indian activists like Disha Ravi have been arrested for working on a protest toolkit and supporting the farmers’ agitation.
I was the first to oppose the Red Fort incident. I was the first to tweet and say that my head hangs in shame. But to look too much into it…that is also not good. While the whole country opposes it, what are you trying to do by playing this issue up? Why create this whole hullaballoo?
Now that little Swedish girl (Greta Thunberg) has made a statement and you want to lock her up. What’s the logic? And these other children (Disha Ravi and others named by the police) who have been picked up in Delhi: usmein kya phayeda huaa (what’s the benefit?) Absurd things.
If an 18-year-old girl supported the farmers agitation, is she going to contribute something to the Punjab farmers’ agitation? It doesn’t make any sense. Then there are so many MPs in UK Parliament and in other countries supporting the farmers. Then pick them up also. Why are you picking up this young girl (and bringing her to) Delhi? I don’t see any sense in this and I think it is being wrongly handled. Punjab farmers can teach all the Swedes how to farm. Is Greta going to tell us how to run the arhtiya system?
How would you describe action against these activists?
101 per cent over reaction. Forget about India, I think we have cut a sorry figure in the world. You ask Punjabi farmers who Greta Thunberg is and they would never have heard of her. But in the world what will people think of India?
You have been in favour of those arrested after the Red Fort incident being released. Why?
I think the whole lot should be released. What is your achievement in picking them up? Arresting means provocation. I have people sitting on railway lines since months. I haven’t picked up one person. We have just diverted the trains.
The moment I pick them up, you will find the crowd will swell from hundreds to thousands. This is provocation and our Punjabis react badly to provocation. As you know, we have our own temperament. I have been in politics for 52 years, I know my people. So the government should come to grips with the situation and produce a solution. Don’t sit on ego. Today they are sitting on ego.
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