After rallies, it's over to street fighting. Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa and party's deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Captain Amarinder Singh will now wage a bitter battle of one-upmanship over sugarcane farmers not being paid their dues since December last year by sugar mills.
Bajwa on Wednesday announced his programme to gherao the sugar mill in Phagwara on August 25 and in Mukerian on August 28. In less than two hours, Amarinder issued a press statement announcing that he would lead the gherao of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's residence on Friday to press for the long-pending payment to sugarcane growers and delay in payment of compensation to farmers whose crops were damaged during unseasonal rain and floods in the state earlier this year.
Virtually challenging Bajwa's authority, Amarinder announced that the gherao would be led by him and attended by sitting and former parliamentarians, legislators, state and district Congress committee presidents and other party leaders. He also appealed to them to ensure their presence.
Bajwa did not comment on the invite to him but one of his aides termed Amarinder's programme a "knee-jerk" reaction to Bajwa announcing an agitation on the issue. "Captain has never spoken on problems of cane growers and suddenly he wants to gehrao the CM's residence over the issue," he said.
In his statement, Amarinder said ideally the farmers should have been paid for their produce within 15 days but they are still waiting for their dues even after eight months. The government is yet to pay compensation to farmers whose wheat crop was damaged due to unseasonal rain. The Punjab government should take a cue from other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand which have already compensated the farmers, he said.
Bajwa said 1-lakh acres was under sugarcane production in the state and this sudden decision of sugar mills not to start crushing citing higher cane price fixed by the state government had come as a bolt from the blue that would further distress farmers and might lead to increasing incidence of suicides. "The government wants the farmers to diversify from the wheat-paddy cycle, but it was acting like a mute spectator and not coming to the rescue of the farmers," he said.