Chandigarh: Bhupinder Singh Mann, national president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) faction known as BKU (Mann) Thursday refused to join the four-member committee set up by the Supreme Court this week to resolve the farm laws stand-off.
In a short press statement released this afternoon, Mann said he was “ready to sacrifice any position so as not to compromise the interest of Punjab and farmers of the country”.
The committee had drawn controversy after it emerged that all four members supported the farm laws, although Mann and a second member — Anil Ghanwat, president of the Shetkari Sanghatana, a Maharashtra-based farmer organisation — had approached the government for certain amendments.
Mann, 81, who is also the chairman of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC) — different from the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, which is spearheading the protest — had made his stand on the laws clear in September last year.
He had written a letter to the prime minister suggesting some amendments to the three farm Acts. His BKU faction as also the AIKCC are largely seen as bodies that support the farm laws.
In his statement, Mann said he was “thankful to the honorable Supreme Court of India for nominating me in the four-member committee to start dialogue with kisan unions on the three laws brought in by the central government”.
“As a farmer myself and union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the form unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interest of Punjab and farmers of the country,” he added. “I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab.”
S. Bhupinder Singh Mann Ex MP and National President of BKU and Chairman of All India Kisan Coordination Committee has recused himself from the 4 member committee constituted by Hon'ble Supreme Court pic.twitter.com/pHZhKXcVdT
— Bhartiya Kisan Union (@BKU_KisanUnion) January 14, 2021
Mann has been an active farmer activist since 1966, when he founded the ‘Farmers Friends Association’, a help group. Mann’s BKU was the first BKU in Punjab and has spawned almost all the other factions in the state. He formed the Punjab Kheti Badi Union, which is considered to be the precursor of the BKU.
Mann led several agitations in Punjab in the 1970s, including the famous “lekhe patte da morcha”, an agitation launched to bring transparency in the accounts dealing with farmer loans. He also led a “tractor morcha” in 1976 where farmers agitated against the supply of tractors with manufacturing defects.
Mann, however, is known best for the 1984 agitation in Chandigarh, which saw thousands of farmers lay siege to the Punjab Raj Bhavan for over a week. Agitating farmers made the Chandigarh golf course their home for a week, refusing to budge till their demands were met.
The farmers were demanding that support prices for wheat and paddy match the actual production costs. Maharashtrian rural activist Sharad Joshi was then spearheading the movement along with Mann. Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, whose BKU faction is now part of the 33 farmer unions leading the agitation in Delhi, was then the secretary general of the Punjab unit of Mann’s BKU.
The agitating farmers began to call their spread around the Raj Bhavan “Kisan Nagar”, a concept that has now been evoked at the Singhu border, where sections of the long line of tractor trollies have been divided into various “nagars” named after freedom fighters.
In 1991, Mann was nominated to the Rajya Sabha as an Independent member and served in Parliament till 1996. Later, he built a close rapport with Congress leader Captain Amarinder — now Punjab Chief Minister — and supported him ahead of the 2002 assembly elections, when Amarinder assumed office as CM for the first time.
Since then, Mann has openly announced his support for Captain Amarinder in all assembly elections.
With a large number of other BKU factions emerging in Punjab, Mann’s has paled in significance, courting a small following among farmers.
For the past many years, his union has limited itself to leading small delegations to political leaders, demanding, among various things, direct payment to farmers instead of thorough commission agents, inclusion of small and marginal farmers in the MNREGA, as also the protection of farmers during land acquisition.
Mann’s son Gurpartap Singh has been a member of the Punjab Public Service Commission since 2018. Gurpartap has also served as member of the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board.
Mann’s BKU kept itself away from the farmers’ agitation in Punjab when 33 unions got together under the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) to oppose the three central farm Acts in August last year. Instead, he chose to send suggestions to the prime minister.
In September 2020, he wrote a three-page letter to PM Narendra Modi suggesting that an ordinance be brought in to guarantee that farmers will get the MSP, adding that it should be legally binding on all buyers, government or private, with strong penal action ser out for defaulters.
Assurance of MSP as a legal right is among the primary demands of the protesting farmers.
He also suggested that agriculture land be brought out of the ninth schedule of the Constitution — a list of state and central laws that can’t be challenged in courts — to enable farmers to approach courts for justice.
This report has been updated to correct a factual error in the description of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee