Will Harsimrat Badal leave Modi's Cabinet over farm Bills?
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is at loggerheads with ally BJP over three farm Bills, is pondering over another key matter, pertaining to the resignation of Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. The Bills have sparked quite the furor in Punjab, with protesting farmers declaring that any MP who supports the legislation will be barred from entering villages. The Badals are clearly trying to not upset the peasantry.
What are the Bills that have sparked outrage?
The Bills in focus are the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020; Farmers' Produce, Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; and Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020. Farmers believe that if they become laws, they would not get minimum support prices. They argue that even though the Bills talk about a "guaranteed price," the method for determining it isn't specified.
States and traders are also displeased with the Bills
Besides farmers, some states are miffed with what the Bills propose. For example, the Bill on trade and commerce opens markets for farmers, beyond their states, but stops state governments for levying a cess, a recommendation that offended many. Moreover, traders are also unhappy as the Bills aim to seize power from Agricultural Produce Market Committees, that have been regulating the sale/purchase for decades.
BJP seemed ready for opposition, not for a dissenting ally
While the anger of opposition isn't surprising — Congress' Captain Amarinder Singh threatened "resentment" and said he would approach courts against the Bills — BJP found itself in a soup when SAD also took objection to it. BJP called the Bills "far-sighted," but SAD opined that it wasn't consulted. The party urged the Centre to not present the Bills until farmers' concerns are resolved.
Sukhbir Badal said Centre should have consulted farmers' parties, allies
On the turn of events, SAD's Sukhbir Singh Badal said, "Before introducing these Bills, they should at least have consulted the parties that are essentially farmers' parties. Our minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, had expressed her reservations when matter was taken up during a Cabinet meeting."
Despite LS hiccup, SAD ready to oppose Bills in RS
Despite Sukhbir's open dissidence, the Centre didn't drop its plans. On Tuesday, the second day of the Monsoon Session, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha with a voice note. After the setback, SAD has now planned to vote against all three Bills in the Rajya Sabha. Yesterday, Rajya Sabha Chief Whip Naresh Gujral ordered SAD's members to remain present.
SAD stood by Bills until beginning of this month
Notably, SAD wasn't opposed to the Bills until the beginning of this month. On September 3, party patriarch Parkash Singh Badal released a statement, in an attempt to allay the growing protests. "Union Agriculture Minister (Narendra Singh Tomar) has given a statement that it could never happen that MSP regime could end," the senior Badal said. Sukhbir also took a similar stand last month.
With SAD's renewed stance, calls for Harsimrat's resignation grew louder
However, as SAD changed its position, hoping to score political points in Punjab, speculations about Harsimarat's resignation also followed. Former state minister Sikander Singh Maluka, seen close to the Badals, told Indian Express, "If we are voting against the Bills, she (Harsimrat) will have to resign. This is my personal opinion and this is what 90% of senior SAD leaders think."
"Melting point" far, but BJP should respect concerns, opined another
While Mauka remained confident that Harsimrat would resign from the Cabinet, others suggested against jumping to conclusions this early. SAD Kisan Wing Secretary-General Gurpartap Singh Wadala said the relationship between SAD and BJP hasn't yet reached a melting point. "If BJP tries to oppose or condemn what Sukhbir said, then party will have to take a stand," Wadala went on.
Will SAD's hard bargain prove costly?
When asked about Harsimrat's rumored resignation, Gujral said "it's a revolving thing in politics." But the pressing question is — Will an attempt to gain political ground in Punjab cost SAD its alliance with BJP?