Even as Bhagwant Mann went to Gujarat to campaign for the assembly election — he was accused in May of wasting Punjab taxpayers’ money on such trips — that begin on 1 December, Punjab Police lathi-charged protesting agricultural labourers outside the chief minister’s rented house in Sangrur. His Aam Aadmi Party alleges, of course, that the protests are a handiwork of the BJP.
AAP leaders claim that the ruling party in Gujarat was unnerved by Delhi Chief Minister and party supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign, venting the frustration in Punjab. Meanwhile, the labourers in Sangrur are demanding an increase of minimum daily wages to Rs 700 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA), implementing five-marla plot schemes for Dalits and allotment of the third part of common panchayat land on lease to the community.
The Punjab workforce is protesting under the flag of Sanjha Mazdoor Morcha, a joint front of eight labour unions. The demonstrating activists from farms and trade unions clashed with the police that used batons to bring the crowd under control. Dramatic visuals from the site showed the flag-waving, slogan-shouting protesters being beaten by the police. Hundreds of agricultural labourers gathered near Patiala-Bathinda Road in Sangrur in the morning and later around 3 PM and marched towards the chief minister’s rented accommodation.
When the activists reached outside the private citizens’ neighbourhood, where Mann’s residence is located, police used force and resorted to the lathi-charge. Sangrur Superintendent of Police Manpreet Singh led the cane-charging and was caught hitting protestors in videos. He can be seen hitting protesters and directing other cops in the videos.
President of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee Mukesh Malaud said, “Earlier, the chief minister promised a meeting to us but later he refused to meet. Now, we are forced to protest to raise our demands.”
The protesters also want 33 per cent representation for Dalits in village cooperative societies, an increase in recompense for land acquisition, relief for farmers suffering due to cattle deaths from lumpy skin disease and compensation for crop damage.
This Dalit backlash against the AAP is expected to benefit the BJP, with the party’s vote base among the community as well as the tribal population, steadily shrinking. The so-called marginalised community is peeved at the AAP government for not implementing reservations for Dalits in government departments.