This is not a very popular opinion but it comes with lot of historical context. The plight of farmers in Punjab has never been understood by any ruling party in Punjab. The recent farm bill row has only put that fact in concrete. The Farm bills apart from facing the heat of protests from farmers all over the Punjab have managed to do what all agricultural firms operating in Punjab could not. The Farm bills have brought the farm unions under one umbrella which has jump started the rusting engine of Punjab politics once again.
Why is it a challenge?
Farm unions have never been unanimous in their tone in past & have always played to the tunes of the parties with SAD majorly occupying the chunk of unions. When Sardar Prakash Singh Badal announced and worked on the channel system of irrigation, only 12 farm unions agreed to the ideas and others believed that it will deprive some areas from water. When the tractor tax was levied off even though it was something that all farmers should have technically loved, some farm unions opposed it as well.
Farm unions getting together setting apart their differences to fight against Farm bills have made all parties think of their stand on the bills. So just in case you had started to assume that political parties in Punjab with huge rallies have something to offer, you are wrong.
In this piece I will discuss why BJP, Congress, SAD & AAP all of the main parties in Punjab are polishing their own agendas with little or no actual interest in the farmer.
Shiromani Akali Dal
Shiromani Akali Dal or SAD as it is known with stalwarts like Prakash Singh Badal & Sukhbir Badal has always projected itself as the party of farmers. In each and every statement that Badal has released or said, he has maintained that “99% of Akali leaders are farmers and 95% of Akali workers are farmers.”
This statement is not factual at all. Akali workers and Akali leadership is remotely connected to farming themselves. Yes they own acres and acres of land, more land than any average farmer owns in Punjab but they have not worked on their land for a single day. Most of their projects are already owned by Adanis and Reliance including the organic farming projects. These rich farmers with political interests have connected with the private players long before the bills were even introduced. The difference being them and average farmers worries is that no private player would like to mess with them in the long run whereas an average farmer would not be able to bear costs of a legal battle with any private firm. This fact is confirmed by presence of large silos and storehouses in Akali lands in Punjab. The lands that were given to private players during Akali tenure.
Another major card that Akalis have been playing is that of a legendary party. This not only means that they steal the credit of all the work that Joint Akali Dal did in 1970s-1980s but also the work done during British Raj. A simple look at history establishes that Shiromani Akali Dal is a relatively new faction that has nothing to do with Gurdwara reform movement at all. That credit is unduly taken by current SAD due to ignorance of a generation. Akalis claim to be representative of Sikh politics which again is not true. Sikhs have been known to be united in groups, and this fact is used by all regimes sitting in Delhi to use Sikh sentiments. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale for example united Sikhs because congress wanted to use Sikh collective vote bank. Akalis were an opposed group to him and enjoyed more support than he did. How is it that any party can claim to be Sikh face when Sikhs have never been under one umbrella since Ranjit Singh’s time? Akalis were denounced for their silence in 1984 June as much as congress was. A knowing Sikh blames Akalis as much as congress. The claim to be a Sikh face in politics today by Akalis is nothing more than farce.
This brings us to question of why is SGPC in support of Akalis?
SGPC is the Sikh organisation and no doubts the representative of Sikh interests. There is however no denying that SGPC has always been a mouth piece of SAD in recent past. The current SGPC moves are more or less governed by SAD. If a statement is needed from SGPC in order to gain Sikh sentiment for SAD, it is issued. This however doesn’t mean and imply that SGPC works for SAD. It simply means that one is used by other when needed.
Farm unions and common man of Punjab has raised questions on silence of Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the Parliament when ordinances were passed. Sukhbir Badal has repeatedly said in his speeches after quitting NDA that the party was not consulted enough. This is not true again. Sukhbir was sent to farmers to collect the grievances of farmers. The farmers did not agree on anything less than ‘statutory writing that MSP won’t go away’. But is this what Badals conveyed ahead? BJP says NO. Sukhbir says that he was convinced that once ordinances are passed the writing will be included in the bills. This statement by a politician indicates his lack of knowledge on the subject of parliamentary affairs. The day BJP failed to include MSP in ordinances was the day it was decided but Sukhbir kept silent which he defends now that he did not know at all.
Farm unions have called out the splitting of alliance a farce and something that can not be for farmers but for the better interest of SAD in Punjab politics. The alliance should have broken on the day ordinances were passed but it did not. The breaking up of alliance is nothing more than an effort to strengthen SAD in Punjab because it is losing its ground.
Punjab’s majority as well as Hindu minorities have their grievances of SAD. Sumedh Saini is the living threat to the image of SAD in Punjab among majority community along with the favours done to Ram Rahim. The sacrilege cases and the immunity provided to the provocateurs adds fuel to fire for anger against SAD.
SAD used Gurdwaras or Sikh TAKHTS in their rally recently where they aimed to submit a memorandum to Governor. The rally has been questioned by all wise and sane people equally.
1. If the rally really was aimed at submitting a proposal or memorandum to Governor why was it that Chandigarh administration was not made aware and permissions taken?
2. The rally was mere show of its strength in Punjab which it did successfully.
3. Never have been leaders arrested and released within 15minutes. Many people have argued that the arrests at Chandigarh border were staged by SAD.
Whatever it is, I leave you to be the better judge of what is happening in Punjab as far as SAD is concerned.
Congress or Amrinder Sakar
Amrinder singh or Captain Sahab which is how he likes to be addressed is far from being a Sikh representation and he doesn’t claim to be so in his defence. Not going into his ancestors and their treacherous nature to Sikhs because that is not scope of this report, Captain is by far the most loved congress man in BJP. Yes he is the only congress person that BJP loves. Captain unlike many congress people is wise and knows how to use his cards well.
Captain has kept Punjab’s minorities scared with the threat card of Khalistan and how he is the only saviour of Punjab. Punjab’s minorities love captain for his stance which is hollow like the right wing propaganda of Khalistan. Not ignoring the threat of a border state but Khalistan card is the brain child of Congress in modern day and times. Captain in June said that there is no threat to Punjab. The same captain came up with a statement few days ago that Khalistan elements might hijack the farm movement. He knows how to play with the minorities in Punjab. In order to be seen as a saviour he has made many promises including ‘De radicalisation camps in Punjab’ which has made him a favourite among top brass of BJP that is largely ignorant on Khalistan or its threats. They see captain as an expert on it which he clearly is not.
Captain’s image has gone down due to the Farm bills and he has been questioned more by farm unions. Farm unions recently met him and he assured that he will bring in a session in Punjab Assembly to declare all of Punjab an APMC Mandi. The Farm unions feel betrayed as on this day because this hasn’t been fulfilled.
Captain also called a session before centre passed the bills to send a proposal to assembly to consider the demands, turned out the document was in Chandigarh eating dust while the bill got passed in Delhi.
Captain has also faced heat for his involvement in the team that decided and discussed the Farm bills before they were passed. As per agriculture minister Tomar, Captain and MP cm both were part of the meeting. This leaves captain ground less and hollow in his opposition to the bill.
Captain even sent Manpreet Badal to attend the Niti AYOG conference in Mumbai before the bills were passed where Manpreet Badal appreciated the bills.
Captain follows the text book model of congress governance which means no checks on corruption & rampant scams. Captain has been widely successful in pushing the scam of scholarship to Dalit children under the carpet. Not only that he has also given clean chit to Sadhu Singh Dharmsot (minister involved in scam). The whistle blower Kirpa Shankar Saroj has been transferred.
Captain has another scam of Covid-19 kits that has been pushed under the carpet due to the Farm bill protests.
Captain like SAD has been a party to shielding Sumedh Saini as well.
If we are to believe Farm Unions, they see no difference between Captain and Sukhbir Badal as on this day.
The less we talk about BJP & AAP better it is in context of their role in Punjab. AAP has been successful in bursts in Punjab to push the genuine demands and sentiments which should not be taken away from them. When it comes to farm bills, AAP has been an equal party to the complicit people as have been SAD and Congress. AAP spearhead in Delhi or party as a whole has not talked about farm bills. Bhagwant Mann is the lone figure shouting on top his lungs but he decided to walk stay neutral when the bills were passed.
BJP has tried to fire gun using captain’s shoulders in Punjab and will always do that. The recent announcement to contest on all seats of Punjab is something that everyone is looking forward to. There are many questions on functioning of BJP overall in the country and Punjabis unlike others evaluate the party based on how it has done for Sikh interests. The exclusion of Punjabi language and rampant arrests of Sikh youth in UAPA has given an anti Sikh image of BJP in Sikh vote bank. A lot remains to be seen how BJP fires its gun in Punjab.
If you have read it thus far, it should be clear that farm unions and farmers have nothing to do with either Khalistan or the parties in Punjab. The demands of inclusion of MSP in writing and as statuary clause are legit and should be addressed well on time. The protests that go on for a very long time can be hijacked by anyone. It is time Modi shifts his attitude of “never taking back a bill” to “let’s consider this”