A day after resigning as Union Minister of Food Processing Industries in protest against three farm Bills that have triggered protests across Punjab, Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Friday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance on the legislation was too little and too late, and that the Akali Dal had repeatedly raised the matter in the Cabinet.
Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from Delhi, Harsimrat, the MP from Bathinda, said, “I am grateful he (the PM) has done that (given the assurance). I would have been even more grateful if he had said this a month-and-a-half ago when I was saying farmers wanted an assurance.”
Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal said the party would meet to take a decision on its alliance with the BJP. The Akalis are one of the BJP’s oldest allies.
Sukhbir asked why the PM, who tweeted saying the Bills were not anti-farmer and would not end the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime, could not ensure that the same was specified in the legislation. The MP from Ferozepur, who walked out of Parliament on Thursday with wife Harsimrat after she announced her surprise resignation, Sukhbir said, “A tweet is not an assurance. They should have put this in the Bill… The Prime Minister should have given an assurance on the floor of the House… What is the problem in it?” he said.
Sukhbir said they had a copy of the “dissenting note” Harsimrat had given in writing on the ordinances, which have now been introduced as Bills.
“From Day 1 in the Cabinet, we objected to the ordinances. I said so on the floor of the House. But they told us these are just ordinances and that when they introduce the Bills, they would take care of all the apprehensions. That is why for the last two months we have been trying (to address farmers’ concerns). Farmers said the MSP regime would end. We went to them (the government). They wrote a letter saying the MSP regime would not end. So, we kept on going up and down to ensure that all farmer issues are resolved because we are a part of the NDA and it is our duty. We made it very clear that if you do not change (the Bills) according to the wishes of farmers, we will not support the legislation.”
Sukhbir denied the claims that the Akali Dal had supported the ordinances initially. “I said we would sacrifice anything for farmers… if the MSP ends. We kept on saying the same thing… The farmers said put it in the Act and a letter will not suffice… If we were supporting the ordinances, we would not have opposed them in the Cabinet meeting.”
Asserting that the Akali Dal represents the farmers, Sukhbir said, “We know exactly what the farmers need, what protection and security they need. And we told them (the Centre) exactly that.”
Harsimrat warned that the entry of private players in the farming infrastructure facilitated by the Bills could cause it to “collapse”.
On the Akali Dal-BJP alliance, Sukhbir said, “I feel sad. We always fought against the Congress. We are among the founder members of the NDA and… our views were not taken. That is what hurts.”
He also continued his attack on the Congress, having accused the party in Parliament on Thursday of talking of similar legislation in its manifesto in the Punjab 2017 Assembly elections. “The true face of the Congress is now revealed as they did not oppose the Bills. They did not vote against the Bills but walked out. This means they are supporting the Bills. Secondly the same Bill was part of Amarinder Singh and Rahul Gandhi’s manifesto, Captain Amarinder Singh implemented it in 2017. How come he is opposing these Bills now?”
The Amarinder government had amended the APMC (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees) Act to allow private mandis to operate in Punjab.
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