President Ram Nath Kovind on September 18 accepted Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s resignation from the Union Cabinet. She had submitted her resignation as the Union Minister of Food Processing Industries over the Centre’s farm ordinances, which have triggered farmers' protests across Punjab and Haryana.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against three ordinances -- The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 -- promulgated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on June 5. SAD, which is part of the ruling coalition, has however said it will continue to be a part of the alliance.
The Centre has moved three bills to replace these ordinances. On September 17, the Lok Sabha passed the first two bills by a voice vote.
Why are farmers protesting?
These bills seek to provide barrier-free trade for farmers’ produce outside notified farm mandis, and empower farmers to enter into farming agreements with private players prior to production for sale of agri-produce. However, protesting farmers claim that the move will 'corporatise' the agriculture sector and further cripple them financially.
The government claims that these initiatives will help farmers get better prices for their crops, by legalising contract farming, for instance.
A release issued by the Prime Minister's Office in June had claimed that these measures will give farmers "the freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply and will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into the agriculture sector. It will help drive up investment in cold storages and modernisation of the food supply chain."
Addressing a press conference BJP National President JP Nadda said all three bills are far-sighted and will boost agriculture production. When asked about the minimum support price (MSP), the BJP leader assured that it would stay.
Why is SAD protesting?
This has led to a major political storm in the agrarian state of Punjab. The state-level unit of the Akali Dal has been supporting the farmers' protests. Earlier this week, SAD president Sukhbir Badal had said, “Every Akali is a farmer, and every farmer is an Akali.”
Thus, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh -- a rival of the Badals -- had dared Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Sukhbir Badal to quit the BJP-led NDA. The Congress itself has opposed the bills. Its Members of Parliament (MPs) had also burnt copies of the bills, and had staged a protest in front of Mahatma Gandhi's statue in Parliament Complex and raised slogans against the government.
With Legislative Assembly polls in Punjab just 18 months away, the development is likely to directly impact the state's politics -- forcing the Akali Dal to pick a side.
Politically, the SAD has been in a spot over the last few years. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP-SAD alliance managed to win just four of the 13 seats in Punjab. SAD won just two of those seats. The drubbing came two years after the party managed to win just 15 of Punjab’s 117 Assembly seats in the state polls – leading to a loss of power after two terms.
In her resignation letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Harsimrat Kaur Badal said that farmers and her party are "synonymous" since SAD is "inspired by egalitarian vision of the founder of Sikh faith, Shri Guru Nanak Dev who spent nearly 20 years working in his fields at Kartarpur Sahib as a humble farmer".
"It's enough to show what farmers mean to SAD," she added.
Besides SAD, other opposition parties are also protesting against these bills. Terming the three bills “anti-farmer”, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s National Convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has demanded that the Centre withdraw them, saying his party will vote against the bills in Parliament. AAP is the second largest party in the Punjab Legislative Assembly.
The Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Left parties, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) opposed the bill in the Lok Sabha.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati also sharpened its attack on the Centre and said that her party will not support the bills.
In a tweet in Hindi, Mayawati said, "Two bills related to farmers were passed in the Parliament yesterday without clearing doubts of farmers and BSP does not agree with this."
"It will be better if the Central government focuses on what the farmers in the country want," she said.
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) demanded the bills be sent to select committees. The Shiv Sena, which is allied with the Congress in Maharashtra, supported the bills, but recommended changes.
Also read | 3 ordinances that will 'corporatise' agriculture: Why farmers in Punjab, Haryana and UP are protesting
Yet, there are non-NDA parties that have supported the bills. News agency ANI quoted YSR Congress Party MP Krishnadevaraya Lavu as saying that the “Akali Dal has its own political compulsion in Punjab. Their opposition party has cornered them, maybe that is the reason which forced them (to oppose the bills)."
"We welcome the (passage of) the bills but their implementation has to happen in a planned way so that the farmers are not affected," the lawmaker said about the three agrarian reform bills.
Besides YSRCP, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Janata Dal (United) also supported the bills.