Heat on him in Punjab, Raghav Chadha earns reprieve with Bill, GST reversal

This Parliament session is proving to be just what the doctor ordered for Raghav Chadha, a Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab. On Friday, Chadha introduced a Private Member’s Bill seeking a legislation guaranteeing minimum support price, and declared that he will fight for farmers’ rights till his very last breath.

Before that, Chadha met Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to seek withdrawal of 12% GST on guesthouses near the Golden Temple, likening them to jizya tax imposed by the Mughals on non-Muslim subjects. Subsequently, on Thursday, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) rolled back the order.

The Aam Aadmi Party leader also urged the Central government to make good on its September 2021 announcement of a ‘gurdwara circuit train’ connecting historic shrines across the country.

All these measures, with their emotive links to Punjab, are aimed with an eye on the state. And are expected to help Chadha at a time when he has run into a spot of trouble there. Social media platforms frequented by both AAP and its followers have been abuzz with plaudits for the MP.

Chadha has been at the centre of a row since July when the Bhagwant Singh Mann government constituted a temporary committee to advise it and anointed him its chairman. The Opposition called the move as yet another example of AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal running the Mann government through proxy. Some leaders even compared Chadha to the British resident foisted upon princely states such as Punjab by the East India company.

This is a charge with much potential for damage in Punjab. The state has historically railed against the ‘Dilli sarkar’, and has been batting for more federalism. Chadha, originally from Delhi, has had to battle the outsider tag.

Appointed co-in charge of AAP in Punjab in December 2020, the 33-year-old has been assiduously building a base in the state. The former MLA from Rajinder Nagar, Delhi, criss-crossed Punjab for over 14 months in the run-up to the Assembly elections in February 2022. He worked extensively in the border region of Majha before the civic polls and is said to have laid the ground for AAP’s win in the volatile belt by building a robust organisational structure there. Closer to the polls, he was seen to have had a hand in the selection of candidates.

So while his appointment as the chairman of an advisory panel to the government didn’t ruffle any feathers within AAP, the Opposition’s protests made the party quickly realise the bad optics of the move. This came close on the heels of other steps by the Mann government, which drew charges of it being woefully inexperienced.

The appointment also ran into legal trouble when an advocate filed a PIL challenging it in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In the Advocate General office of the government too, there were murmurs that it would not stand judicial scrutiny.

While Chadha got some relief in that case last week when the High Court disposed of the petition, the state’s counsel told the court that the post had not been notified yet and it was just an order.

Leader of the Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress claimed the court had actually pulled up the state government by orally stating that such an appointment was unconstitutional and against the functioning of the government, which consisted of democratically elected persons.

While it remains to be seen if Chadha might reverse the bad news coming his way with the Bill on MSP, it is a good issue to place his bets on. Farmers in the state are seeking a legal guarantee of MSP for all crops, not just wheat and paddy. Only last week, farmers blocked railway tracks following a nationwide protest call by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of 40-odd farm unions, that led the year-long farmer agitation.

AAP has been highlighting Chadha’s move in Parliament. “Look who is fighting for the rights of Punjab. Where are the Congress and Akali Dal MPs?” tweeted minister Harjot Bains.

Inderbir Singh Nijjar, another minister, called Chadha a “a true flagbearer of the farmers’ cause” .

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