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Protecting Arhtiya system was Congress’ poll promise: How Congress has served Arhtiyas and how ‘farmers’ protest is not about farmers at all

Punjab Food & Supply Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu had said on the 13th of March that payments to farmers would reach "directly" through Arhtiyas.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has threatened to move the Supreme Court if the state bills against the farm laws do not receive the President’s assent accusing the Centre of attempting to break the ‘age old’ relationship between farmers and the middlemen. Singh described the relationship between farmers and arhtiyas as ‘age-old time-tested’.

“We will go to the Supreme Court, if the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind does not give assent to the State Amendment Bills, which unfortunately the Governor is still sitting on, instead of forwarding them for presidential approval, even though the Vidhan Sabha had unanimously passed the Bills, with all parties voting for them. It was tragic, however, that the Akalis and AAP had later started playing political games on the issue,” Amarinder Singh said

As is evident, the Congress party is openly batting on behalf of Arhtiyas at this point. For quite some time now, the opposition parties have abandoned the veneer of farmer interests they had donned and operating as the arms and voice of the middlemen. It became clear once and for all when the Punjab government opposed the Direct Transfer of Funds to farmers in the state for crop procurement.

Punjab Food & Supply Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu had said on the 13th of March that payments to farmers would reach “directly” through Arhtiyas.

The stand adopted by the Congress party, as it turns out, has historical precedence. When the UPA Government in 2012 had suggested direct transfer of payment to farmers, Congress leaders from the state had opposed the same as well. There was a SAD-BJP alliance government in the state then.

Union minister and Patiala MP Preneet Kaur, Sangrur MP Vijayinder Singla and other Congress MPs had met KV Thomas, the then union minister for consumer affairs, leading a delegation of the State Arhtiyas Association. They had urged the Union Government to be accommodative of Arhtiya interests as the latter formed the “backbone of the procurement process”.

“The union minister has apprised us that making direct payments to farmers was only a suggestion given to the Punjab government,” Preneet Kaur had said. “Without arhityas, there is no system in Punjab to carry out procurement of food grains. Abolishing the present system would only lead to problems for farmers.” Nine years later, nothing much appears to have changed.

However, what did change was the opinion of the farmer unions. The farmer unions had been furious with the Congress leaders for backing the Arhtiyas in the matter. “The Congress must come clean. Why this flip-flop? Several times the party leaders extended their support to abolish the system. Now they are supporting arhityas, who are looting the farmers in the name of commission,” Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda) state president Buta Singh Burajgill said.

“When Capt Amarinder Singh was the chief minister, he had assured us that he would pursue the matter of doing away with arhtiyas as they were bringing miseries to farmers,” Consortium of Farmers Association state president Satnaam Singh Behru said. “In the recent past too, the Congress supported us. The U-turn must be due to pressure from the strong arhitya lobby, which has money power.

By 2016, however, during the election campaign, Amarinder Singh had promised that the arhtiya system would not be abolished should the Congress form the government in the state. He said while addressing a delegation of Arhtiyas, “The Congress government will not take any decision or formulate any new policy without getting mandate from the arhtiyas and other communities connected with the trade.”

In 2018, the Punjab Government had brought a Bill to regulate Arhtiyas which drew sharp reactions within the party itself. While Amarinder Singh may now described the relationship between farmers and Arhtiyas as ‘age-old time-tested’, his own MLA had said back then, “There was a time when farmers and commission agents had a good equation but now the scenario has changed.”

By the time the protests against the farm laws began, the Congress party was fully on the side of the Arhtiyas. The Punjab Chief Minister accused the central government of adopting “intimidatory tactics” against “arhtiyas” following IT Raids against some of them.

Meanwhile, there were reports that the Arhtiyas found themselves on the wrong side of the fence when demonetisation was announced. “When we go to these arhtiyas for our money or for loans and advance payments, they make us sit for the whole day for even a paltry amount of Rs 5,000. How do they expect us to convert their black money worth lakhs into white overnight?,” one farmer had told Catch News.

It is widely known that Arhtiyas have been at the forefront of the ‘farmer protests’ and these protests in the name of farmers is, in reality, a protest by the middlemen, of the middlemen and for the middlemen. The recent statements by the Punjab Chief Minister and other Ministers in his cabinet have only served to drive home the point further.

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Searched termsCongress arhtiyas
K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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