New Delhi: Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who resigned from the Union Cabinet Thursday night over three farm bills, said farmers’ interest comes first for her, and then the NDA alliance.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Harsimrat said she tried every platform in the government and the cabinet to apprise the ruling dispensation of the farmer’ concerns over the three bills, but said she only got verbal assurances.
Of the three bills, the Narendra Modi government passed one bill to replace the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 Tuesday.
On Thursday, the government passed the other two bills to replace the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020.
Harsimrat said the party will decide if it wants to continue with the NDA as its ally after consultation with farmers and party leaders, but asserted that for her “farmers interest is supreme, rest things are secondary”.
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal held a meeting with party leaders at his residence on whether to continue with the NDA or not.
“It is clear that we didn’t even think twice before leaving the Union cabinet for farmers’ interest. Punjab is a farmers state and there is confusion among farmers on the bills. For me, my party and farmers’ interest come first, then the NDA alliance,” Harsimrat told ThePrint.
SAD looking to corner Amarinder too
SAD is, however, also looking to corner Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on this issue.
Akali leaders said the party might leave the NDA to show solidarity with farmers, but this decision will be taken after weighing its ramifications in state politics.
It will depend on how Amarinder plays the issue of Harsimrat’s resignation, said an Akali leader on condition of anonymity.
Among the BJP’s allies, SAD is the oldest. They had allied with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the BJP’s predecessor, for the first time during Punjab assembly elections in 1969.
It formed a coalition with the BJP again in 1997 during the state elections. At the Centre, however, SAD joined the BJP-led coalition in 1998 and has been with it since.
‘Amarinder a liar’
Harsimrat said she repeatedly cautioned the government about the confusion among farmers regarding the bills.
“It is not the question of timing. From the beginning in June, I have written letters, requested the government that the bills are anti-farmer, but only got verbal assurances,” she said.
“I tried my best to convince them but failed. So I decided to resign. My only demand was to send the bills to the (joint) select committee, which the government did not accept,” Harsimrat added.
Asked about allegations that Akalis succumbed to Amarinder’s pressure, Harsimrat said the CM “is a liar, and has no credibility”.
“There is documentary evidence that in the NITI Aayog meeting he (Amarinder) advocated for the bills. He even implemented them in Punjab after he took over as the chief minister in 2017. In 2019 (Lok Sabha polls), the Congress manifesto even promised to bring in the APMC (Agricultural Market Produce Committee) reform.
“He is a liar, he has no credibility. I have done something, what he has done? First he said, resign from the government (over farmer issues), and when I have resigned, he is saying why have you resigned? He is sitting in a hotel and speaking about farmers’ interest,” she added.
Harsimrat said it was necessary to convince the farmers that she was standing with them.
“The captain is only fooling the farmers, but after my resignation, everybody and every political party has praised and welcomed my decision,” she said.
Harsimrat further said if the farmers have concerns, it is the government’s duty to allay their fears.
“In Punjab, the mandi system is very old, which was established by (former CM) Parkash Singh Badal but if there was any concern raised by the farmers, why did the government not try to address them? It is the duty of the government to allay fears of the farmers, they are also stakeholders in the economy,” she added.
SAD leaders said with elections due in Punjab in 2022, the party cannot afford to be anti-farmer.
This moment has given a golden opportunity to the Akalis to bounce back since their base and clout lie among farmers, they added.
Akali leaders also pointed out this move will give the SAD a huge advantage in the run-up to the election and has also put the CM on the backfoot over farmers’ issue, SAD leaders added.