Flagged concerns, says ex-Minister Harsimrat Badal; SAD is rethinking alliance
Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who resigned from the Union Cabinet on Thursday over a disagreement with the Centre on three farm Bills, said on Friday that her party — the Shiromani Akali Dal — repeatedly flagged concerns in the Cabinet, but to no avail. In an interview with Indian Express, she said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assurances came a little too late. Here's more.
Harsimrat, the daughter-in-law of SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, said she was happy PM Modi gave the assurance, but it should have come at least one-and-a-half-month ago. She was referring to PM Modi's speech yesterday where he urged farmers against getting misled by those having vested interests. He said the current Bills would free them from constraints and hand over new-found independence.
The Bills which laid roots for Harsimrat's resignation are the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill; the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. Farmers have been protesting against the Bills, claiming that they threaten Minimum Support Prices (MSPs). Critics also believe the Bills might embolden black-marketeering.
As the protests raged, SAD, that has a rural base and is fishing to gain political ground in Punjab, was pressurized to take a stand. Late Thursday evening, Harsimrat resigned, saying the Bills were against farmers. In a separate interview with NDTV, the MP from Bathinda said she spoke to farmers to understand their concerns. One of them gave Reliance Jio's example, she added.
"A rustic farmer said Jio came in, they gave free phones. When everyone bought those phones and got dependent on these phones, the competition was wiped out and Jio jacked up their rates. This is exactly what the corporates are going to do," she said.
She also told the news channel that the Bills are perceived as "anti-farmers" and asked how can the Centre bring them without consulting stakeholders. "I tried to convince them but my words weren't enough. Maybe my voice was not loud enough," she said. Harsimrat, however, said that PM Modi's regime wasn't "anti-farmer." Had it been, SAD wouldn't have been an ally, she underscored.
Notably, SAD is one of the oldest allies of BJP, and with Harsimrat's resignation, the party is now rethinking its partnership with the saffron party. Harsimrat's husband and SAD's President Sukhbir Badal said he was hurt the opinions of Akalis weren't considered, despite their decades-old association with BJP. "We always fought against Congress. We are among the founder members of NDA," he told IE.
"I said we would sacrifice anything for farmers... if the MSP ends. The farmers said put it in the Act and a letter will not suffice... If we were supporting the ordinances, we would not have opposed them in the Cabinet meeting," Sukhbir added.
Sukhbir, who said PM Modi should have assured about MSPs on the floor of the House, also slammed Congress. "They did not vote against the Bills but walked out. This means they are supporting the Bills," he said. He also reminded that Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh allowed private mandis to function. "How come he is opposing these Bills now?" he asked.