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AAP to aim for centrestage through farmer outreach programme

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 26 July 2017, 18:55 IST

After having maintained a low profile for some time post the Punjab polls and the Delhi civic body polls fiasco, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is now planning a farmer outreach programme in all the states where its units are functional. 

The idea is to make its presence felt among the masses as a party that holds the interests of the farming community as a top priority. Of course, the tone for this programme will be set by the agrarian state of Punjab where the party has a well-established organisational structure and a huge support base. 

It is also the state where farmer issues continue to dominate the political discourse after the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government came to power four months ago. 

Punjab's state-level committee for this programme has been formed under the Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan.

Sandhwan said that the aim of this programme is to put pressure on the Congress government in Punjab and the Narendra Modi-led NDA government in the Centre to implement what they had promised to the farmers before coming to power.

Ahbab Singh Grewal, who has led his party in carrying out several farmer related campaigns in the state, told Catch, “We intend to work as a pressure group. These governments cannot take the people for a ride. The farmers continue to commit suicide. There is no move towards implementing the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and the crop loan waiver announced by Amarinder serves no purpose.”

AAP leaders have announced that the registration for this programme would start from 15 August. This will be followed by marches in all the districts between 2 and 6 September demanding the fulfilment of the poll promises made by the government.

What are the solutions?

In the context of Punjab, AAP leaders have pointed that one of the ways out of this misery for the farmer – is diversification.

“But this exercise has taken a backseat on account of the regressive policies of the central government. For example, dairy farming has been badly hit because of issues related to the ban on cattle trade for slaughter and the nuisance of Gau Rakshaks. This is an enterprise involving three lakh cows and a revenue of Rs 2,500 crore. It is high time these issues are taken up,” pointed out party leader Daljeet Sadarpura.

The party is alleging that the failure of the Punjab government to deliver on farmer related issues has disheartened the community. The entire Opposition, including both AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)–BJP combine, is playing up the suicide committed by a farmer in Ajnala two days ago.

The victim, Major Singh of Teda Kalan village, left a suicide note accusing the Punjab Government of not fulfilling its promise. The note also reportedly said that although the government had announced the waiver of farm loans, it was not getting translated on the ground and the debt kept rising due to heavy interest rates.

Attacking the government, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has called for booking finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal for abetting suicide while also making the Punjab government and the Congress a party in the case.

“Despite an announcement by Amarinder that farmer loans would be waived off, the finance minister allocated only Rs 1,500 crore for this purpose in the state budget. And this is despite the fact that the accumulated farmer loans are touching Rs 90,000 crore. Even this amount was not released making it clear that Manpreet Badal had stopped the release of even this paltry sum to farmers,” Sukhbir alleged.

Who is to blame?

Going a step further AAP has said that instead of Manpreet it should be Amarinder who should be booked in the case.

Party leaders have said that they will take a legal route to corner the government for not delivering what it had promised.

“The farmers must be freed from the debt they owe to commission agents, co-operative and nationalised banks along with other institutions,” said Sandhwan.

Sadarpura added, that on one hand, there is no let up in suicides and on the other, the government is still to come out with an elaborate programme to end the crisis.

“While farmers owing paltry sums amounting to a couple of lakhs are committing suicides, those swindling thousands of crores are sitting comfortably. This is the plight of the country that fails to realise that it can prosper only if the farmer is saved,” he said while pointing that the farmers need to be educated on not to fear banks.

AAP leaders have alleged that in many cases, banks have taken blank cheques from the farmers which are often used to threaten them and this often results in suicides. The party also intends to start helplines for the farmers.

Meanwhile, its leaders have started visiting the families of farmers who have committed suicides since the new government came into power in Punjab.

The end game

This programme chalked out by AAP has deep political connotations. First, it will help the party leaders connect with the rural masses once again and define its presence in the hinterland.

Second, it will help AAP send across the message of being the main Opposition party in the state – something that it has failed to do through its performance in the State Assembly where the Akalis hijacked the agenda.

Observers also point out that such programmes are also necessary for the party in the context of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The party has a well-established organisational structure in Punjab that was put up for the recent Assembly polls. The party leadership needs to further capitalise on it.

In fact, AAP's strength in rural Punjab has been hyper-local agitations on issues related to the farmers.

Meanwhile, the state government is trying to persuade the private and nationalised banks to offer one-time loan settlements to small and marginal farmers.

Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal met representatives of these banks on Tuesday to take up this issue and reportedly discussed the modalities of waiving off Rs 2 lakh each, of 10.25 lakh small and marginal farmers.

Manpreet has also requested banks to cooperate in sharing name and account details of farmers who are to be covered under the scheme.

First published: 26 July 2017, 18:55 IST