Spl Article : NDA divides on farm bills, a bad news for BJP

Harsimrat Kaur - Sukhbir Badal

The NDA at Centre is likely to suffer a setback when the Shiromani Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur has resigned as Union Minister for Food Processing, to protest against the agricultural Bills pushed through by the Narendra Modi government. Akali Dal is one of the oldest allies of NDA and it is leaving the NDA after Shiv Sena which was also one of the oldest allies of the BJP.

The new Agriculture Bills have sparked widespread protests from farmers, especially in Punjab and Haryana. The Bills, meant to deregulate the sale of farm produce, have been opposed by several farmer organisations, fearing they will lead to the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) regime. Kaur’s resignation came as a surprise as the Akalis had initially defended the Centre’s ordinances.

The resignation of Harsimrat Kaur from the Union Cabinet after her party opposed the bills, exposing a crucial rift between the two parties over efforts to unshackle the farm sector. Surprisingly, less than a month ago, Akali Dal working president Sukhbir Badal had accused the Congress and AAP of misleading farmers that the ordinances will do away with the MSP. He had even made public a letter by Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar claiming that MSP won’t be touched.

However, the Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh called the resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal over the farm bills as “nothing more than a gimmick.” On the other hand, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi took on critics of his government’s farm liberalisation plan, a day after the lower House passed two of the three farm bills, accusing detractors of spreading “misinformation and lies”, while reassuring farmers that the reforms were in their best interests. The main Opposition party, Congress, and a clutch of smaller parties have opposed the reforms. And now the NDA’s ally, Akali Dal is also opposing the Bills.

Attacking the opponents, Modi said, “People who ruled this country for decades and were in power…such people are trying to mislead farmers. They are telling lies to farmers.” Fake news is also being spread that wheat and rice etc. will not be procured by government agencies from farmers. This is an absolute lie, completely wrong and an attempt to cheat farmers,” Modi said.

According to Modi, the reforms will give new freedom to farmers. These reforms will bring more options and opportunities for farmers to sell their produce. Congratulating farmers of the country over passage of this bills in the lower House, Modi said the reforms would “protect farmers” from “middlemen”. Middlemen stand between farmers and their customers; these middlemen take a big chunk of farmers’ income. These reforms have come as a protective shield for farmers, he justified.

But protests by farm unions intensified in Punjab over the past few weeks. Several villages even issued ultimatums that they won’t allow the entry of any leader whose party supported the Bills. The farmers’ protests gained support from others sections of Punjabi society as well. Even celebrities like actor-singer Diljit Dosanjh openly came out in favour of the protesting farmers and against the ordinances.

Akali Dal, which initially supported the Bills has now joined the agitators as it perturbed over the development that the ruling Congress and Opposition AAP had taken a lead on speaking out against the farm Bills. The Akalis were directly in the line of fire and were finding it difficult to answer questions, like why Centre’s ordinances and why Harsimrat Kaur didn’t rake up the matter in the Cabinet.

After the exit of Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal is the BJP’s oldest ally. Their alliance dates back to 1997 when the two parties formed a government together in Punjab. In fact Narendra Modi was the BJP in-charge for the state and played a key role in cementing the tie-up. But the alliance has been in trouble for the past few years. The two parties have sparred on a number of issues, like the Akali Dal didn’t contest in alliance with the BJP in the Delhi Assembly elections, the Akali Dal spoke out against the Citizenship Amendment Act, saying that it discriminates against Muslims, though it supported it in Parliament and the two parties contested the Haryana Assembly elections separately.

Anyway, the development is not good for the health of BJP as it lost its one of the main allies, Sena few months ago. Leaders of both the parties, Akali Dal and the BJP, particularly the Prime Minister Modi should sit together and come out with a solution so that the ally should intact! If the new bills are the interest of farmers, the government should convince all the political parties and farmers of the country too!