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Friday, July 19, 2024

India: In Punjab, Cong faces heat as Khaira’s ‘anti-migrant’ pitch draws fireworks, from PM Modi to CM Mann

Both Punjab Cong chief Warring and LoP Bajwa have distanced the party from Sangrur candidate’s remarks demanding a Himachal-type law to put various curbs on migrants

Addressing a rally in Khetla village in the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency on May 18, the Congress’s candidate Sukhpal Singh Khaira had called for bringing a law in Punjab along the lines of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, which would bar a migrant, he said, from buying land or becoming voters or getting government jobs if that person does not fulfil certain state-stipulated conditions.

Khaira had expressed concern over Punjabis’ increasing “exodus” to foreign countries, claiming that if such a trend continues, Punjab’s natives would turn into a minority in the state.

While Khaira, a three-term MLA, has repeated his remarks at his subsequent rallies, he has drawn sharp criticism from the ruling AAP and the BJP over it. The Congress has tried to steer clear of the row, calling it Khaira’s “personal views”.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, without naming Khaira, told a rally in Bihar’s Maharajganj: “They ( INDIA bloc) are insulting Bihar people. A Congress leader close to the royal family (Gandhi family) says people from Bihar should be boycotted, shouldn’t be given rights in Punjab or allowed to buy a house there, but the royal family keeps mum over it. Their mind is full of such hatred.”

In his reaction, Khaira accused PM Modi of “twisting” his remarks, denying that he has mentioned Biharis or called for migrants’ “boycott”. “I’m advocating a law like Himachal Pradesh that bars outsiders from buying land, becoming a voter or applying for govt jobs without clearing state conditions,” Khaira said in a statement.

“We have no objection if any non-Punjabi wants to earn a livelihood in Punjab but in case he/she wants to settle down permanently he/she should fulfil conditions similar to HP Tenancy Act 1972. Such a law is all the more important in Punjab as most of our govt jobs are being taken by people from Haryana, Delhi etc…This is highly imperative in Punjab as our demographic situation is in danger due to massive migration of Punjabis worldwide,” he said, adding that “I also wish to remind the Prime Minister that a similar law like HP also exists in his home state of Gujarat and also in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand.”

Slamming him, the Punjab BJP’s Purvanchal wing head Rajesh Mishra said, “Khaira’s remarks are directly targeting the migrants of UP and Bihar who work hard and have contributed a lot to the economy of Punjab. We will complain to the Election Commission about his divisive remarks. Furthermore, the BJP plans to hold effigy protests against the Congress across Punjab over it.”

Joining issue with the senior Congress leader, Punjab Chief Minister and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann said,”Putting up restrictions for outsiders is not right. It is not correct to demand for such an Act as Punjabis believe in ‘Sarbat da bhala’ (prosperity for all) and Punjabis are famous for organising langars at various places during calamities. Every year migrants come to Punjab during paddy transplantation season and even our Punjabi boys and girls go outside the country to make a living… So such a demand is not justified as we welcome everyone with open arms.”

State Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and Leader of Opposition (LoP) Partap Singh Bajwa sought to distance the party from the controversy. “Congress expresses its divergence from the viewpoint conveyed by Khaira. It is imperative to underscore the unwavering commitment of the Congress to the core tenets of inclusivity and democracy. Khaira’s assertion echoes merely a personal standpoint. It is with firm conviction that we affirm the right of every individual to live, work and engage in the electoral process across the expanse of our nation.”

Ahead of the February 2022 Punjab Assembly polls, the then Congress CM

Charanjit Singh Channi had also sparked a controversy by saying that “Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi’s bhaiyas shouldn’t be be allowed to enter the state”. Channi had later said that his remark was directed at the AAP leaders and not the migrants who come to Punjab to work and earn their livelihood.

PM Modi had then attacked Channi during a poll rally in Punjab’s Abohar.

Migrant factor in Punjab

Punjab is substantially dependent on migrant workers in various sectors – ranging from agriculture and industry to housing and domestic help services – most of whom hail from UP and Bihar, although many migrants also come from West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, HP, Odisha and Rajasthan, among other states.

The influx of migrants started in Punjab in the mid-1970s after the green revolution. A survey conducted in 2016 by the then Punjab government’s Parvasi Board estimated the migrant population to be around 39 lakhs

in the state. They are mainly concentrated in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Mohali, Phagwara, Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar and Fatehgarh Sahib. As per the 2011 Census, the state’s population stood at 2.77 crore. About 30% of the migrants are voters in Punjab, official sources said.

Sangrur contest

In the multi-cornered fight in Sangrur, CM Mann’s home turf, Khaira is pitted against the incumbent MP and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, AAP candidate and minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, the BJP’s Arvind Khanna and the SAD’s Iqbal Singh Jhundan.

In the 2022 bypoll, Simranjit had defeated the AAP’s Gurmail Singh with a narrow margin by 6,245 votes. This time, however, there are indications that the Sangrur contest would be mainly between Khaira and Hayer.

Despite being constituents of the INDIA alliance at the national level, the Congress and the AAP are taking on each other in the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab, although they are fighting the polls in states like Delhi and Haryana under a seat-sharing deal.

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