Protests, politics rage over farm Bills

Farmers’ agitation flares up in Punjab and Haryana as political parties tear into government against the farm sector Bills; Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the oldest allies of the NDA, snaps ties with the ruling party, reports Rajesh Moudgil

Even as the protests of the farmers against the recently passed three farm sector Bills seem to intensify with every passing day, it has ignited a high-voltage politics in the country’s two main agrarian states — Punjab and Haryana.

Backed by different political parties and farmers organisations, the farmers have held protests and blocked national highways and rail traffic during the past fortnight making virtually tens of thousands of people undergo harrowing times in the two states. Police had also resorted to lathi-charge in Kurukshetra to disperse farmers who had blocked the Delhi-Chandigarh national highway for more than twice.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the oldest ally of the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) snapped its ties with NDA stating that the decision to pull out of the alliance was because of the Centre’s stubborn refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect assured marketing of crops on MSP and its continued insensitivity to Punjabi and Sikh issues, the SAD president Sukhbir Badal said in a tweet.

The farmers’ stir had turned into a political battlefield few days ago after Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit Modi Cabinet in protest against the said ordinances.

Oldest ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the traditional SAD-BJP alliance is Congress’ bête noire in Punjab. This thus opened a front for all the political parties to score their brownie points against their rivals, besides taking on the government, there.

“I have resigned from Union cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister,” Harsimrat Badal had announced her resignation through her Twitter message.

The issue now promises to be one of main political planks in Punjab in times to come as the state goes to polls in first quarter of 2022.

Congress reacts

Reacting on the resignation by Harsimrat, the Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh termed it as nothing more than a gimmick to befool the farmers. He went on to say that it was a case of “too little and too late’’.

Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar called her resignation as a “compulsion’’ and said that the SAD had thus ended up making a laughing stock of themselves.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the principal opposition party in Punjab, too has taken on the Badals. The AAP MP Bhagwant Mann flayed SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal for what he held, as misleading statements about the farm Bills. Mann said that Badals had been supporting the ordinances till recently but now they had suddenly started protesting. In reality, the protest is nothing more than a show, he added.

The AAP has one member in the Lok Sabha from Punjab and three in the Rajya Sabha. In Punjab, it is the second biggest party in the state assembly with 19 seats in the 117-member House.

Haryana has BJP-Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) coalition government and Congress as the main opposition party. The Congress was swift to capitalise on the opportunity to take on the Centre as well as state’s BJP-JJP coalition government.

Former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupender Singh Hooda said that the three farm ordinances were against the interests of farmers and if the government wanted to implement them, then it should ensure that no purchases were made below minimum support price (MSP).”

Senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala held that  these ordinances would not only “destroy’’ farmers, but would also be a blow to the “mandi’’ system and impact farm labourers and “arhitiyas’’ (commission agents).

Reacting sharply on the Haryana deputy chief minister and JJP leader Dushyant Chautala, Randeep went on to say that If Dushyant Chautala did not resign, it would be biggest betrayal of Haryana and India’s farmers. He came to power on vote of farmers and today when farmer is being killed he is sitting on chair of deputy CM enjoying perks of power, Randeep added.

Another opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) which has a substantial support among farmers, has also been bitter against its own splinter outfit JJP as well as rival Congress and BJP.

SAD, BJP rebuke Congress

Rebuffing Congress stance, the BJP and SAD in both the states have repeatedly rebuked the rivals and said that it was the Congress which had in its manifesto during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls promised to do away with the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and
allow free inter-state trade without any restrictions.

The agriculture Bills aim at protecting the interests of farmers, said Punjab BJP president Ashwani Sharma and added that the BJP had decided not to axe its decades old relationship with SAD.

The SAD also took on the Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh maintaining that his government actively participated in the framing of the said Bills.

Senior SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema asked the chief minister to issue a white paper on his participation in the meetings of the high-powered committee on agriculture. He alleged that Capt Amarinder Singh was uttering blatant lies about his involvement in supporting the ordinances.

The three bills

The government has brought Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.

These three legislations aim at creating a system in the agriculture sector in which farmers and traders could sell and buy agricultural products outside grain markets (mandis).

The Bills also aim at encouraging intra-state trade and thus reducing transportation costs for the farmers. The Bills formulate a framework on agreements that allow farmers to engage directly with agri-business companies, exporters and retailers for services and sale of their farm produces. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill aims at removing items such as cereals and pulses from the list of essential commodities and attract foreign direct investment in the sector.


CRITICS FEAR: Two market — market committees and free trading markets — would prove disastrous for vulnerable farmers

GOVT’S REBUTTAL: Farmers are aware and would have option to sell where they would get better profit

FEAR: Minimum support price (MSP) and procurement system would slowly go, corporate would take control on agri-markets

REBUTTAL: The same would continue as government is giving more choices to farmers; the Food Corporation of India would continue to stock essential commodities such as wheat and rice, ensuring that India’s food security is intact. It may even attract foreign direct investment in the sector

FEAR: Bills ignore farmers’ relationship and even dependency with commission agents on various issues such as loans in interlocked markets

REBUTTAL: Middlemen take a huge chunk of farmers’ income and stand between the farmers and consumers; the new bills would keep them out

FEAR: Contract farming is anti-farmer by its nature

REBUTTAL: When mainstreamed, contract farming and agribusinesses would be able to pool farmers, invest in their land and make the latest agri-technology available to the farmers