The attempts to prevent Punjab farmers from entering the national capital, to protest against the recently enacted farm laws by the Centre, could escalate into a major confrontation between the two neighbouring states. The decision of the Haryana government (which was reversed on Friday) to seal its borders, in order to deny free passage to the agitators, was not in the interest of either of the states, as well the democratic traditions which have been followed in this country so far. The entire issue has been poorly dealt with by the Centre, which should have taken the initiative in addressing the grievances, or at least commencing a dialogue with the kisan leaders. The Haryana farmers as well as those from western Uttar Pradesh, are equally anguished, and it is evident that the state government’s action could be totally counter-productive, and needlessly impact the stability of the Manohar Lal Khattar dispensation.

The sealing of the borders had resulted in a spat between the two Chief Ministers, with Captain Amarinder Singh condemning any kind of coercion on farmers, who had not violated any law to go to the national capital. There are several outstanding issues which have strained the relations in the past between the Haryana and Punjab governments. The demand for Chandigarh as the state capital and the contentious matter of the Sutlej-Yamuna link canal were used by vested interests to foment trouble during the period of heightened militancy in the border state. If politics comes into play, these issues would crop up again, thereby disturbing the peace and harmony with which the people of the two regions, once a part of larger Punjab, have existed. Pakistan has always been looking for opportunities to create problems in the sensitive states, and any kind of nefarious designs should not be allowed to succeed.

There are indications that the Haryana government took the decision of thwarting the farmers› march at the behest of the Centre. If it is so, whoever sent the suggestion was himself ill-advised. It was only some days ago that the Punjab CM had directly intervened to convince the farmers to lift their rail blockade, which was affecting supplies as well as passenger traffic to another sensitive area of Jammu and Kashmir. This gesture of goodwill by the farmers should have been reciprocated by the Centre in the same spirit. There is no reason why the farmers cannot be given assurances which would assuage them and go a long way in withdrawing the agitation.

Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had during the peak of the India-Pakistan conflict in 1965, equated the farmers with our soldiers by coining the slogan, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”. He realised that both segments contributed to the overall security of the nation. Farmers by giving us food security and the Jawans by protecting us from our enemies. When the Centre deals with the farmers, the basic fact should never be forgotten that they are our valued citizens, and not pawns in any political game. If political parties are backing their demands now, it is solely because there is realisation that they are genuine concerns. This situation would never have arisen if the Centre, while preparing the draft of the farm bills, had taken the representatives of the farming community on board.

Larger consultations always lead to more acceptable solutions. There should be no more delay and the Centre must not allow matters to deteriorate. Laws gain sanctity if they are backed by rationale and reason which are not in variance with the ground realities. The dialogue must begin.