On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Kutch, Gujarat, that farmers are being misled by some political parties on the three new farm laws. Modi said, farmers are being fooled into believing that others will occupy their land if the laws are implemented. These reforms, the PM said, are exactly the same that farmers’ outfits and the opposition had been asking over the years.
Modi said, those in the opposition who are misleading the farmers today, were trying to push these same reforms when they were in power, but they could not take a decision. Today, when the country has decided to take a historic step, they are misleading the farmers, he added.
In my ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ prime time news show on Tuesday night, we showed how political leaders and parties took a ‘U’ turn over the farmers’ issue and are now trying to politically exploit the sentiments of farmers. These leaders and political parties had been saying that corporates would usher in prosperity for farmers, but are now warning the farmers that if corporates are allowed entry, they would deprive the farmers of their agricultural land.
Earlier, these leaders used to allege that ‘aadhatiya’(commission agents) were fleecing the farmers. The same leaders are now saying that commission agents are the best friends of farmers. Earlier, these leaders used to paint a rosy picture about contract farming. They are now misleading the farmers by saying that farmers may lose their land if contract farming is allowed.
Prominent among these leaders is the head of Shiromani Akali Dal, Sukhbir Singh Badal. His party was in power at the Centre and was a partner in Modi government. His wife Harsmirat Kaur was a cabinet minister, and it was in her presence that the Union Cabinet adopted the draft of the three new farm legislations and Parliament passed these bills.
Today, after walking out of the government and NDA, Sukhbir Singh Badal is alleging that the three farm laws are ‘anti-farmer’ and BJP as a party is an enemy of farmers. On Tuesday, Badal even alleged that the BJP itself was a ‘tukde-tukde’ gang and wants to divide the country. In my show, I showed an old soundbite of his wife Harsimrat Kaur, who as a union minister, had praised the farm bills and had criticized the Congress and other parties for opposing the bills.
The question now is: if Sukhbir Badal and his wife knew that the new laws were beneficial for farmers, then why are they opposing them now? Why did they snap off the 24-year-old ties of their party with the BJP? The answer is: Punjab is heading for assembly elections after two years and Sukhbir Badal is more interested in winning these elections rather than thinking about the interests of farmers. When he found that Punjab CM Capt. Amrinder Singh is emerging as a hero among farmers by opposing the farm laws, he decided to pitch in and opposed the farm laws.
The result: Shiromani Akali Dal is presently neither here, nor there. Neither do the farmers trust Badal’s party, nor is the BJP willing to accept him. Badal wants the BJP leaders to approach him to seek his help in defusing the standoff with farmers. He wants to take credit for defusing the current tension. With this motive in mind, he has been sending Akali supporters to Delhi border to join protesters in order to mount pressure on the Centre. The Akali Dal is now on the same wavelength on the farmers issue with Congress and Aam Aadmi Party. Both these parties were till recently being criticized by Badal’s wife for “misleading the farmers”.
The Congress, in its 2019 Lok Sabha poll manifesto, had promised: “Congress will repeal the Agricultural Produce Market Committees Act and make trade in agricultural produce—including exports and inter-state trade—free from all restrictions.” It also promised: “The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 belongs to the age of controls. Congress promises to replace the Act by an enabling law that can be invoked only in the case of emergencies.”
When Modi government enacted laws incorporating these promises, Rahul Gandhi did a ‘U’ turn and decided to oppose these bills. The Congress is now demanding that APMCs (agricultural mandis) must not be disbanded and that Essential Commodities Act must remain in its previous form. Rahul Gandhi has been posting tweets almost daily asking his partymen to go to the streets to protest against the new farm laws. On Tuesday, he tweeted: “For Modi govt…protesting farmers are Khalistanis and Crony capitalists are best friends.” Congress MPs from Punjab have been staging dharna at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for the last 10 days demanding repeal of the three new laws.
The problem with Rahul Gandhi is, he is least bothered about the interests of farmers, and is more interested in embarrassing Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For the last six years, most of his remarks about Modi helping “capitalist cronies like Ambani, Adani” now sound like a stuck gramophone record, irrespective of whether the issue relates to land acquisition or GST or demonetization or acquisition of Rafale fighter planes. Rahul Gandhi has made such allegations so often that most of the people now rarely take his charges seriously. Had Modi not enacted these farm laws, Rahul would have changed his track and asked what Modi government was doing to protect farmers from middlemen and commission agents. He would have blamed Modi for being anti-farmer and in hands-in-league with commission agents.
The Congress is not alone in its anti-Modi stand. Its ally in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, has also stepped in. This party supported the farm laws and voted in favour in Lok Sabha, but when they were introduced in Rajya Sabha the next day, it abstained from voting. This was a classic case of ‘U’ turn. The same Shiv Sena leaders, who used to question Rahul Gandhi’s intelligence quotient in the past, now consider him an expert on agriculture.
Similar is the case with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. His government in Delhi notified the new farm laws on November 22. When Punjab CM Capt. Amrinder Singh blamed the AAP government for siding with the BJP, Kejriwal replied that the laws had been enacted by the Centre, and since these laws were related to commercial activities, his government could not obstruct them.
The fact is: in 2017, when AAP contested the Punjab assembly polls and released a manifesto, it promised reforms in APMC Act, so that farmers would be free to sell their crops to any buyer, anywhere, even outside the state. In the same manifesto, the party promised to bring large scale private investments in mandis and processing units. Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday pointed out how the party was misleading farmers in order to gain advantage.
Whether it is the Congress, or Akali Dal or Aam Aadmi Party or the Left, all these political parties are more interested in garnering support of farmers with an eye of 2022 Punjab assembly polls. This is the crux of the matter.
These parties are main contenders in Punjab elections, and are unwilling to face the wrath of farmers. These parties, which had failed to defeat Narendra Modi in the elections, have now found the farmers’ issue as a convenient tool to embarrass Modi. But the most interesting aspect is that the farmers do not want any political party to join their agitation. They want to fight their own battle. I spoke to several top farmer leaders on Tuesday. They promised that the farmers would not allow any party to gain advantage. Some of the farmer leaders even want to edge out the Left parties from their agitation.
Though the Left may not have a large presence in north Indian states, it has a good network of cadre in Punjab who are working with the farmers. The Left parties are relentlessly trying to hijack the farmers’ agitation, but the cat is out of the bag. After we showed visuals of Left supporters holding placards for release of anti-national and Naxalite leaders and their supporters shouting ‘Death to Modi’ slogans, other farmer leaders have disapproved such actions. On Tuesday, farmer leaders at the dharna sites on Delhi border said they would not allow anti-national slogans or activities any more. They promised not to allow anti-national elements to infiltrate their ranks.
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