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Friday, January 15, 2021

SC panelist says he wants to stay impartial, farmer unions question his allegiances

While the farmer unions claim Bhupinder Singh Mann has been in support of the farm laws from the start, Mann says that he does not want to say anything on the farm laws as of now.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | Updated: January 15, 2021 12:06:27 pm
Bhipinder Singh Mann, SC farm laws committeeThe 81-year-old is president of the Bharti Kisan Union (Mann) and chairman of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC), which was formed in the early 80s.

The inclusion of Bhupinder Singh Mann, 81, in the committee named by the Supreme Court to suggest what changes, if any, needed to be made in the Centre’s farm laws, has stoked a controversy among farmer unions who believe he is president of a “pro-farm laws farm union”.

A resident of Batala district of Punjab, Mann was an independent member of the Rajya Sabha from 1990 to 1996. He had supported Congress in the 2012, 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls and in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Punjab, and is in support of the Centre’s farm laws. His son is a member of the Punjab Public Service Commission since 2018, and was also a member of the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board for a short period of time during the Amarinder government.

Interestingly, in one of the meetings between the 33 protesting farmer unions and Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh last October, Mann had turned up on his own accord. However, he was not allowed to speak on the occasion, with union representatives saying that he was not part of them and was not even one of the spokespersons declared by farmer unions.

While the farmer unions claim he has been in support of the farm laws from the start, Mann now says, “I don’t want to say anything on the farm laws as of now. Though I am yet to get official information from SC that I am a committee member, if my name has appeared in that committee, I want to stay impartial.”

The 81-year-old is president of the Bharti Kisan Union (Mann) and chairman of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC), which was formed in the early 80s. “I have been active for the cause of farmers since decades. In 1966, I had formed the Punjab Kheti Bari Union, which further took form as BKU in 1980. I was the founder chairman of AIKCC and even now am chairman. BKU was the original organisation and later many organisations bifurcated from it. Now, many BKUs have been formed.”

Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, president of BKU Lakhowal said, “Bhupinder Singh Mann and I had worked together in Bharti Kisan Union. He was in favour of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as well, due to which we had split. I used to work as general secretary of BKU when Mann used to be the president of that organisation in the 80s. He has already written in favour of farm laws. Our 32 farmer organisations have decided not to appear before any committee and we stick to this decision.”

BKU Rajewal, BKU Tikait also split from BKU due to difference of opinion. Meanwhile, the AIKCC had officially supported farm laws on December 14 last year. Sources said this is the one coordination committee of farmers, which the Union government keeps on talking about, which is happy with the farm laws. Mann said, “AIKCC has its branches in 20 states of India which include BKU (Mann) in Punjab, Haryana, UP and MP, Shetkari Mahasabha in Maharashtra, Kherut Samaj in Gujarat and many other states as well.”

He further said: “I have been working for the rights of farmers since the mid-50s, because of which I was nominated by the President as a Rajya Sabha member from 1990 to 1996. I was not from any political party.” In 2019, he had attended an election rally in Batala with Gurdaspur’s Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar. “We had supported Capt Amarinder Singh in 2012 and 2017 and the Congress candidates of Punjab in Lok Sabha polls in 2019. But in every state, BKU supports political parties as per their policies for farmers. It is not a fixed support to one political party always,” said Mann.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, who also used to be part of BKU earlier with Mann, said, “Bhupinder Singh Mann is supporting farm laws. Rather all four members of the committee are pro-farm laws.”

Jhanda Singh Jethuke, senior vice-president of BKU Ugrahan, said, “It is a sarkari committee. Bhupinder Mann’s union hardly has any base in Punjab now. He supported Congress in three elections in Punjab, became a Rajya Sabha member. So the one who gets political benefits, can’t be termed as a farmer leader.”

Mann’s son Gurpartap Singh was also in-charge of Congress Bhawan, Chandigarh, and was also president of the social media cell of Congress in Punjab when Partap Singh Bajwa used to be president of PPCC. “Now I have no designation in Congress,” said Gurpartap.

However, he is still a PPSC member.

Bhupinder Mann has around 20 acres of joint family farm land in Marianwala and Poonder villages in Batala. His union did not protest against farm laws in Punjab and did not not go to Delhi. However, a number of his union members had gone to Delhi on their own (not from the union’s platform) as The Indian Express had met a few at Shambhu border on November 26.

After Capt Amarinder Singh had taken over as CM, Mann had even issued statements praising him for smooth procurement during the 2017 paddy season.

When The Indian Express contacted PPCC president Sunil Jakhar, he said, “Bhupinder Singh Mann, who has a farmer union in Punjab, had extended support to Congress in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and even in 2012 and 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls. But so many organisations support a particular political party in one election, our party has nothing to do with him. He did attend one meeting of protesting farmer unions called by CM in Chandigarh but he was not allowed to speak by the rest of the union members as he was not among the four spokespersons chosen by the 33 farmer unions. Now, the fact is that AIKCC has supported farm laws and Mann is chairman of that committee. Hence, it is a sarkaari committee, I must say. I feel that the members who are already in favour of a particular political party’s policies should themselves step down as committee member so as to have an independent opinion on the farm laws.”

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