Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Tuesday questioned why the Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs were absent from the Punjab Assembly during the passage of bills introduced by the state government to negate the central farm laws. Chidambaram called this a display of “political cowardice”.

Punjab on Tuesday became the first state in the country to formally reject the Centre’s contentious agriculture laws that were assented last month, with the state Assembly unanimously passing a resolution against them.

The House also passed three farm amendment bills of their own to counter the central laws, along with a fourth amendment for exempting farmers from attachment of land up to 2.5 acres. All MLAs from the Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party voted in favour of the resolution and the bills. However, the two BJP MLAs were absent from the House during the special session of the legislative Assembly.

“Why did the BJP MLAs stay away from the Punjab Assembly when the House was considering the Bills introduced by the state government?” Chidambaram asked in a tweet. The former finance minister said that if the absentee legislators supported the central farm laws, they should have participated in the House proceedings and opposed the state government’s bills.

“What the Punjab BJP MLAs did can be aptly described as political cowardice,” he added.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh introduced three farm Bills on the second day of the special session of the state Assembly – The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment Bill, 2020, The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020.

A fourth bill, the Code of Civil Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, was also introduced to “save the peasantry of Punjab”. The bill seeks to insert a provision for exemption of agriculture land not exceeding 2.5 acres from Section 60 of The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, which provides for attachment or decree of various properties, both moveable and immoveable, according to The Hindu.

One of the bills provides for imprisonment of not less than three years for the sale or purchase of wheat or paddy below the minimum support price. The bill also penalises forcing farmers to sell below MSP. Another bill cleared by Punjab prevents blackmarketing of food grains.

The bills, however, need the assent of the governor before they become laws. The governor could withhold assent and refer them to the president.

The resolution, which was passed, described the Centre’s farm laws and the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 as “anti-farmers” and demanded that they be scrapped. “Three farm legislations, along with proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, are clearly against the interests of farmers and landless workers, and the time-tested agriculture marketing system established not only in Punjab but also in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh,” Singh had told the House.