Family members of debt-ridden farmers who had committed suicide joined the Shiromani Akali Dal in a protest march to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha on the first day its Budget Session on Tuesday. The protesters, who carried placards and raised slogans against the state’s Congress government, included women from CM Amarinder Singh’s ancestral village and the face of the party’s loan waiver promise during the Assembly poll campaign.
The protest was led by SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal from his official residence. The farmers’ families were brought to the location by SAD volunteers, particularly Youth Akali Dal workers.
SAD patriarch and former CM Parkash Singh Badal also actively participated in the protest. He said “Sarkar naal takre ho ke larai larni pau. Apne haqaan layi larai larni pau (We have to strongly fight the government for our rights).”
After the former CM’s address, protesters marched towards the Punjab Vidhan Sabha at about 11:30 am, about half an hour after the session began on a stormy note with SAD MLAs interrupting the Governor’s address and staging a walk out.
Meanwhile, tight security arrangements were made to prevent the agitators march from reaching the Vidhan Sabha. The protesters led by Sukhbir were stopped at the roundabout separating Sector 3 and 4, nearly 500m from the Vidhan Sabha.
SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema and party leader, Bikram Singh Majithia, who were among those who accompanied Sukhbir in the march, asked the farmers’ families to observe a sit in near the round about.
Later, Parkash Singh Badal also joined them and stayed till the dharna was lifted at 1 pm.
SAD said the protest against the Congress government was held for “going back on its promise it waive off all farm loans as well as give one government job and Rs 10 lakh compensation to families of suicide victims.”
At the sit-in, speakers used a makeshift public address system to attack the Congress government. A number of speakers were women, including those from Mehraj in Bathinda district, which is the ancestral village of CM Amarinder Singh.
On the sidelines of these speeches, 13-year-old Gurcharan Singh from Markhai village near Zira, spoke about his father’s suicide two years ago. “Dawai pi lai (He drank poison),” said Gurcharan, adding that he had drop out of Class 8 after the incident. Many carried framed photographs of farmers mentioning the date of their deaths.
Asis Preet Sainwala,Youth Akali Dal district president of Ferozepur who brought Gurcharan for the protest, said about “17 to 18 families” had come from Ferozepur district.
Budh Singh, the mascot of Congress’s loan waiver scheme who was assured that he would be its first beneficiary, rued that the Congress government did not come to his aid. Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia had recently provided financial assistance to Budh Singh to enable him repay his loan.
Among the family members of suicide victims, there were many who alleged that bank officials humiliated them for recovery of farm loan. A woman from Mehraj said three male members of the family were pushed to suicide due to the debt crisis.
In a statement, SAD said “more than 300 farmer suicide victim families today expressed faith in the Shiromani Akali Dal and marched with Youth Akali Dal volunteers to the Vidhan Sabha to demand justice from the Congress government”.
Many protesters said that local Akali leaders mobilised them for the protest at a very short notice. One from Mansa said, “I was told yesterday evening to get ready to go for the protest.” Local Akali leadership and representatives at Panchayat level were learnt to have arranged for their travel to Chandigarh in private vehicles.