INTERVIEW | National

Farm bills | Akalis to reach out to regional parties

Sukhbir Singh Badal. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which recently pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Central government over the new farm laws, plans to bring regional parties across the country on one platform to fight the “anti-farmer” laws.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu’s Vikas Vasudeva, SAD chief and former Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal asserted that the party has never “taken a U-turn” nor altered its stand on the farm legislations since the beginning, when ordinances were promulgated. He also maintained that it was sad the BJP was “insensitive” to the huge relevance of the SAD-BJP alliance in Punjab in the backdrop of Hindu-Sikh unity. He also said that the farm Bills were a clear encroachment on State functions.

The Hindu Explains | Who gains and who loses from the farm Bills?

“We will try to get all farmers’ organisations under one platform and raise our concerns with the Centre. The government has abandoned farmers in favour of corporates,” he said.

“The farmers are facing a crisis and the nation must come to their rescue. We will approach regional parties and try to get them on a single platform against the new laws and other farmers’ issues,” he added.

He said that when the ordinances came to the Cabinet, the party had put forward its objections surrounding them. “The ordinances were never discussed with us before the Cabinet meeting. In the meeting, we objected. But we were assured that farmers’ reservations would be addressed when these ordinances are converted into Bills for the Parliament. We shared the farmers’ concerns and expected that the BJP would accept all of them, but when they did not accept them, we were left with no choice [but to leave the alliance],” he said.

Comment | Will the farm bills benefit farmers?

“The BJP should have consulted its allies first. SAD represents farmers. We know more about farmers than the BJP,” he said.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘Farm laws are a clear encroachment on State functions’

AD-BJP alliance in Punjab was seen as symbol of Sikh-Hindu unity. How do you assess the situation after the breaking of the alliance?

The values of peace and communal harmony are very dear to us. Mr. Parkash Singh Badal is a symbol of peace and the basic thing he taught us is that Punjab can progress only if there is peace. Badal sahab’s basic fundamental was that he took every community, every religious organisation together. He took everyone into confidence for everything and that is why everyone trusts him, and that philosophy we will carry on. For us every religion will play equal part in developing Punjab.

Punjab is a border State and the government of India should have been very sensitive. Punjabis and Sikhs are very emotional people. With love, you can take anything from them, but if you do something which hurts them, they get agitated quickly. It is sad that the BJP is insensitive to the huge relevance of our alliance in Punjab for Hindu-Sikh unity.

Ground Zero | Farm Bills leave farmers, commission agents and workers worried

SAD initially supported agriculture sector Ordinances but later decided to alter its stance. The Opposition accuses you of changing your stance only after facing backlash from farmers to save your ‘vote bank’. Is this true?

We never altered our stand from the beginning. When Ordinances came to the Cabinet, we had put forward our objections surrounding them. The Ordinances were never discussed with us before the Cabinet meeting. In the meeting, we objected. But we were assured that farmers’ reservations would be addressed when these Ordinances are converted into Bills for the Parliament. We shared the farmers’ concerns and expected that the BJP would accept all of them, but when they did not accept them, we were left with no choice [but to leave the alliance].

In the past few months, I have always been telling farmers that for us [the SAD], any alliance or Ministry is not as important as farmers. Our aim was to gather farmers’ suggestions, and when I held meetings with farm organisations and farm experts, they shared the apprehension that MSP (Minimum Support Price) would be wiped out [by the farm Bills], among other concerns. I conveyed all the objections to the government of India and the government gave in writing that they will not discontinue MSP. We then took this message to farmers, but the people of the State, including legal experts, suggested that the assurance in writing was not sufficient. So, all this time, we were conveying what the government of India said to the farmers, and shared the farmers’ view with the government, because we were a part of the NDA. We were assured that they [the Central government] would listen to us. But when they did not listen, we told them we would oppose [them] and walked out of the government. We always remained on one stand.

Also read | Read farm Bills before stoking fears that farmers will suffer: Jal Shakti Minister tells Opposition

Were you betrayed by BJP over the agriculture farm legislations?

The BJP should have consulted its allies first. SAD represents farmers. We know more about farmers than the BJP. In an alliance, numbers should not always be used as the method of taking decisions. Instead, a partnership should be considered as the base for decision-making.

SAD had always been advocating more powers to States. Against this background do you think the agriculture legislations encroach on States’ functions?

Yes, absolutely. These laws are a clear encroachment on State functions. Agriculture is a State subject but they [the Centre] got the Ordinances through the via media of trading, which falls in the concurrent list. So, the government used the concurrent list, which is a wrong way to do [this legislation]. We stand for a federal India. These legislations are clearly violating the federal principle.

Farm Bills | Government should bring in another Bill or amend current one, says RSS-affiliate SJM

After the agriculture Bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha, you said that ‘democratic virtues’ had been ignored. Can you elaborate?

We are the largest democracy in the world. The Parliament works on some established systems. Winning and losing is something different but the system should not be broken. When people in the Rajya Sabha wanted division of votes on the Bills, it should have taken place. Why were the Bills forced? They [the NDA] would still have had the numbers but you cannot just push your way in the manner in which it was done, by bulldozing all norms. The spirit of democracy is consensus, not majoritarian confrontation. People want consensus and peace. No attempt was made in that direction to bring a consensus in Parliament and the Bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha, flouting all democratic traditions.

How do you plan to fight against the new agriculture legislations? Would you be approaching other political parties, especially the regional parties, to joins hands for the farmers’ cause?

We will try to get all farmers’ organisations under one platform, emerge as one force, and raise our concerns with the Centre. We will fight these legislations at every level, including in the people’s court. Farmers are facing a crisis of life and death, and the nation must come to their rescue. What is happening is that the government has abandoned farmers in favour of corporates. The fire has spread all across the country. We will approach regional parties in the country and try to get all together on a single platform against the Centre’s agriculture legislations and other farmers’ issues.

Also read | Farmers take to the streets over farm Bills

Assembly elections in Punjab are due in 2022. Do you think the farm legislations will be the key Assembly issue?

First let us fight this battle to save our farmers. Besides, in Punjab, there are several issues that people are facing, be it the liquor mafia, the sand mining mafia, the drug mafia, the deteriorating law and order situation, and several other problems that the State is plagued with. The ruling Congress government is the most incompetent government that Punjab has ever had. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is hardly seen in Punjab. He doesn’t meet anybody. During the last Assembly election, the Chief Minister was desperate to come into power and form the government, and hence went overboard with promises. After forming the government, he is not bothered about keeping his promises.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 4:40:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/farm-laws-are-a-clear-encroachment-on-state-functions/article32734568.ece

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