Dubbing as totally irrational and illogical the Railways’ decision to link movement of goods trains in the state with passenger trains, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday said by defending the decision, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was further fuelling the fire of anger among the farmers, who had shown more concern for the citizens than the party was doing.
Rejecting outright the BJP state unit president Ashwani Sharma’s allegation of ‘arm-twisting’ the Centre, the Chief Minister said it was the BJP leadership that was inciting the farmers with its anti-Punjab stance on the issue. Instead of questioning the Railways and supporting the state government in persuading the Centre to allow freight trains to ply, the BJP leadership continued to indulge in dirty politics at the cost of the welfare of the people of Punjab and neighbouring states, he said. “What’s worse is that the BJP is not even concerned about our soldiers in Ladakh and Kashmir who are waiting desperately for critical supplies before the onset of snow, which would block them off completely from the rest of the country for the winter months,” he added.
On Sharma’s accusation that the state government had failed to dissuade protestors from blocking train services, the Chief Minister said the fact was that it was his government which had convinced the farmers to ease their blockade to let essential supplies come in. Even now, several of his cabinet colleagues were engaged with Kisan Unions to push for complete lifting of the blockade to allow even passenger movement, he said, adding it was in his government’s interest to do so since it was responsible for the people of the state.
However, said Captain Amarinder, there was absolutely no logic in linking the movement of goods and passenger trains, which the Railways was doing as a patent excuse to continue with the suspension of freight services. Passengers wanting to come to Punjab could easily travel by train to stations in nearby states, such as Ambala in Haryana and Chandigarh, from where they could go by roads to their destinations in Punjab in a matter of a few hours, he pointed out. This was not an option for freight movement, he said, adding that if the people of Punjab, including its farmers, continued to be deprived of their essential needs in this manner, the situation could aggravate.
The Chief Minister said the adamant stand of the Railways, which the BJP was vehemently endorsing, suggested lack of intent to resolve the imbroglio on the goods trains issue. “Why else would the Railways be taking refuge in one excuse after another to continue to suspend the services in Punjab, especially after the farmers had cleared all tracks for freight movement and he had personally guaranteed full safety to the goods trains even though Railway security rested with GRP?” he asked. “And why else would the BJP support the Railways’ unreasonable decision and continue to perpetuate lies on the entire issue,” he further quipped.
Taking a dig at Sharma’s remark that the state government was “claiming that due to non-supply of items like coal, Punjab was facing a crisis,” the Chief Minister said that by calling it a `claim’, the Punjab BJP president had shown his complete ignorance about the ground situation, which was extremely grave. He expressed shock at the fact that the BJP leader could not see how bad things were in Punjab due to the suspension of goods trains – something that the entire country could see.
Reacting to Sharma’s comment as to why the state government could not ensure safety of passenger trains also, Captain Amarinder said it was evident that the BJP leader either did not know the magnitude of the problem or was conveniently choosing to close his eyes to it. “First of all, Railway security is not in the purview of the state. Secondly, the farmers have not yet agreed to allow passenger trains to ply,” he pointed out, adding that the situation was sensitive and needed to be handled with care, which his government was doing, keeping in view the hard facts.
Instead of trying to instigate the state government to crack down on the farmers, Sharma should work with it in the interest of the common man, the business and trading community, the farmers and the industry, whose welfare he claims to be concerned about, said the Chief Minister. Pointing out that even the courts had asked the state and central governments to work together to resolve the crisis in the interest of the people, he urged the BJP leadership to rise above politics and join hands with his government to restore normalcy at the earliest.