Satluj Yamuna Link: the politics behind INLD's decision to dig the canal
Tension has escalated along the Haryana-Punjab border. Cadres of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) are determined to move towards the Punjab border in Ambala district to dig the controversial Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal on Thursday, 23 February.
Law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Punjab-Haryana border claim to have taken adequate steps to prevent the proposed action by INLD workers, even as political barbs are flying on both sides of the states' border.
But the key question doing the rounds is: why has the INLD chosen this point in time to rake up this emotive issue? What does the party want to achieve with its actions (since there are no elections in the near future in Haryana, while Punjab has just got done with its Assembly polls)?
What's behind the INLD's ploy?
There are many theories doing the rounds. One point of view is that the INLD is seeing this as an important issue to resurrect itself on the political scene in Haryana.
With its patriarch Om Prakash Chautala, along with one of his sons, Ajay, serving a prison sentence, this issue is being seen as a potent move that can further consolidate the position of his second son Abhay Chautala in the state politics.
Observers point out that the party has timed this action at the moment when Om Prakash is out on parole. It is being said that the party wants to improve its political graph and lay the foundations for both the Parliamentary and state Assembly polls scheduled to be held in 2019.
With the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government already on the back foot on account of the ongoing Jat agitation, this move by the INLD will further help in cornering the government.
Senior political analyst Balwant Takshak is also of the view that the INLD intends to set the agenda on this issue, which is likely to come up many times in the run up to the next Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
“With the Congress having made strong inroads among the agitating Jats on the issue of reservation, the INLD wants to create an equally strong political issue, on the basis of which it can make gains among the community. Both the parties have a strong support base among the Jats, and this community, with 28% vote share, normally decides which party forms the government in Haryana. If the state government makes a wrong move on the SYL issue henceforth, the INLD will always be in a position to exploit it,” he said.
Takshak further pointed out that even if the Central government under Narendra Modi tries to make any move to resolve the issue ahead of the 2019 polls, the INLD would still be in a position to take political credit saying, it was the one that started the move on the ground.
Observers also point out that if the INLD believes that a solution to the problem can be found outside the judicial process, the party could have acted when the Chautalas were in power in the state.
Punjab parties adamant
Meanwhile, despite the Punjab polls being over, politics over the SYL issue continue in a big way. Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has once again come out saying that is the Central government's responsibility to ensure that there is no forcible entry by INLD workers into Punjab.
Blaming the Parkash Singh Badal government squarely for failing to protect Punjab's water rights, he has warned that the issue could trigger a revival of terrorism in the state if it is not addressed. He said that depriving southern Punjab, which has a history of militancy, of water could lead to the rise of terrorism in the region. He has also questioned the Badals' failure to fight the case properly in the Supreme Court.
Amarinder has warned the INLD against taking the law in its hands, saying the people of Punjab would not take any threat against their lives and futures lying down.
On the other hand, CM Badal has reiterated that Punjab 'does not have a single drop of water to spare' for any other state, and in fact, Punjab's farmers are themselves facing acute water shortage because of the fast receding groundwater level in the state. “There is no water to be allowed to flow through the SYL and not a single drop can be allowed to flow through SYL, and none shall be allowed,” he said.
He has said that political parties and leaders in Punjab and Haryana should refrain from indulging in gimmicks for cheap publicity at the expense of peace and stability in the state. “No one needs to entertain any fears or doubts about the interests of the state being compromised as long as long I am here. The commitment of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government on protecting the interests of Punjab and Punjabis on this and every other issue is total and inviolable. There is no need for anyone to show false bravado on the issue,” he added.
Badal held a high-level meeting with the top officials in the government to review the situation surrounding the SYL. He has directed that adequate security arrangements be made to deal with every possible situation.
“The people of Punjab do not want confrontation with the people of any other state. and want only to protect their own rights and interests. A vast majority of the blocks of Punjab are already in an extreme zone of alarm because of the falling water level. The future of farmers is at risk. Punjab is in no position to spare water from its rivers for the neighbouring states, and no water shall be allowed to flow through SYL,” he said.
Reports say that 10 companies of paramilitary forces and 5,000 policemen are guarding villages located on Punjab's border with Haryana.
Bunkers have been dug, walls erected, and even the movement of cattle near the SYL site has been restricted.
Section 144 of the IPC, prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons, has been imposed, and five duty magistrates have been stationed in the area.
A police control room has been set up near Mughal Sarai in Rajpura. that will keep in touch with the supervisory staff.
Traffic from Ambala has been diverted and all roads from Rajpura to Shambhu have been kept out of bounds. Reports say that the police have come out with an alternative route plan for Thursday.