Rajat Sharma

How politicians are using farmers for achieving their own ends

rajat-sir Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu has made a disclosure about the Centre’s new farm laws which should surprise farmer leaders agitating for the last nine months. Sidhu unwittingly did the work which Congress and BJP leaders failed to do till now. Sidhu disclosed that in 2013 the then Parkash Singh Badal’s Akali-BJP coalition government in Punjab had introduced farm laws in the state assembly, which have close resemblance with the Centre’s new farm laws.

He said, Badals (Parkash Singh and Sukhbir Singh) were the ‘neeti-nirmatas’(policymakers) of new farm laws. He listed several similarities between the Punjab Contract Farming Act and the Centre’s law on contract farming. He even played videos of Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and Harsimrat Kaur Badal praising the new farm laws.

Sidhu said, the policy, concept and structure of new farm laws were the brainchild of Badal family, which the Centre had only copied. He said, “they (Badals) sowed the seed, it was their idea implemented first in Punjab, and then they took this idea to the BJP for execution across India. While Punjab Contract Farming Act is the soul, Modi government’s farm law is only the body.”

Sidhu said, farmer leaders of Samyukta Kisan Morcha who have been agitating against these laws in western UP, Haryana and Punjab, should know that the blueprint of contract farm law was prepared in Punjab by Akali government. Describing Akali Dal as the “enemy of farmers”, Sidhu said, in order “to hide its sins”, the Akali Dal walked out of NDA government at the Centre on this issue, but the hard fact cannot remain hidden.

What Sidhu said is correct. The Punjab Contract Farming Law was introduced by Badal government in Punjab assembly in 2013, which was passed. The strangest part is that neither Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, nor SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and Harsimrat Kaur, and nor farmer leaders Rakesh Tikait and Gurnam Singh Chadhuni ever mentioned this fact at their public meetings.

Sidhu showed copies of the Punjab Contract Farming Act prepared by the then Badal government. In this Act, he said, there is no mention of MSP (minimum support price) in Section 5. The buyer, he said, has licence to buy crops at prices lower than the MSP or market (mandi) price. A schedule of 108 crops, including the two main crops – wheat and rice – was included in the Act. Normally, in Punjab, wheat and rice are procured by the Centre at MSP rates.

The bill, Sidhu said, also provided in section 4 for bureaucrats to handle cases of violation of contract. It prevented farmers from approaching courts if the contract was violated. The bill provided for fines on farmers ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 5 lakh and one month imprisonment in cases of frauds. Bureaucracy was given powers to collect arrears as land revenue.

Section 6 provides for disallowing farmers from selling or taking loan by hypothecating land. The bill gave rights to corporates to tell farmers which seeds to use and how to cultivate land. The bill provided for corporates or their agents directly lifting crops from land, thus eliminating the need to go to ‘mandis’ (markets).

In the Centre’s contract farming law, Sidhu said, there is no MSP guarantee, settlement of disputes will be made by bureaucrats and not the judiciary, there is bar on jurisdiction of civil courts which is against the spirit of the Constitution, there is provision for mandatory registration. “The Centre’s farm law is a carbon copy of the Punjab law with minor alterations”, he said.

When the Centre brought the new farm laws, Sidhu said, Akali leaders made a quick turnaround. At the all party meeting Sukhbir Singh Badal did not oppose the bills. On the contrary, he praised them. Harsmirat Kaur Badal, as Union Food Processing Minister, had signed the draft copies of the new farm bills.

Sidhu said, initially, the Akali stand was that farmers did not understand the new bills. But after public pressure in Punjab, Harsimrat Kaur had to resign from Modi cabinet. On September 17, Sukhbir Badal said his party has resigned from Modi government, but not from NDA.

The question now arises: if the Contract Farming Act passed by Punjab assembly during Badals’ tenure was anti-farmer, why didn’t the Congress government repeal the Act? The Congress led by Captain Amarinder Singh is in power in Punjab for the last five years. Sidhu was also part of the government for some time. Why didn’t he demand repealing of the law? To say that this law as ‘a black law’, and it was brought by Akalis, is alright, but why didn’t Capt. Amarinder Singh and Sidhu got the law repealed?

Farmer leaders should know. The new contract farming law was conceptualized and passed by Akalis, the Congress government carried on with the law and the BJP has now formalized it throughout India. Akali Dal, Congress and BJP – all the three parties are actually in favour of the contract farming law. The only difference is that, BJP is now defending the new farm law, while the Akali Dal and Congress, which had introduced, passed and continued with this law in Punjab, have changed their colours. Both these parties, after seeing mood of Punjab farmers, have changed their political stand.

As far as Sidhu is concerned, the common Indian knows how he changed his political colour overnight. The people of India have seen him lashing out at the Congress, the Gandhi family and its policies, when he was in the BJP, but later, he did a somersault, and after joining the Congress, he started lambasting Narendra Modi. Till 2013, Sidhu was saying at public meetings that Congress has “become more ‘badnaam’ than Munni” (alluding to a popular Bollywood song) and that ‘Manmohan Singh as PM is leading ‘choron ki baaraat’ (procession of thieves), but now Sidhu has changed his tune.

Farmers must realize that their cause has now been bedevilled by politics. The more politics makes an entry, the weaker their agitation is going to become. Nowadays farmer leader Rakesh Tikait is speaking more about politics and politicians than about farmers’ demands at his public meetings. On Wednesday, he described AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi as ‘BJP’s Chachajaan’.

In Kolkata, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, contesting her byelection from Bhabanipur is pointing out how she addressed farmer gatherings several times and sent her leaders in a delegation to join their dharna. Mamata has also started visiting gurdwaras. The reason: there are nearly 40 per cent non-Bengali voters, mostly Sikhs and Gujaratis, in the constituency.

The moot point is: politicians of all hues are using the shoulders of farmers to train their guns at their political rivals. Politicians are using the farmers to further their own ends.

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