EXPRESSING solidarity with farmers who are sitting on Delhi’s borders since November 27 in protest against the new agricultural laws, former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday returning his Padma Vibhushan. Badal, 93, had received the country’s second highest civilian award in 2015.
In a three-page letter to Kovind dated December 2, Badal said, “I write this to return the Padma Vibhushan award in protest against the shocking indifference and contempt with which the government is treating the ongoing peaceful and democratic agitation against the farm Acts. Today… the farmer because of who I am has lost his honour. I see no point in holding onto the Padma Vibhushan honour.”
As leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, the five-time chief minister and one of Punjab’s tallest leaders was among the NDA’s oldest allies. In September, as anger against the farm laws rose in Punjab, the party had quit the NDA and the Modi government at the Centre.
Soon after Badal’s announcement returning his award, Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (86) said he would give back his Padma Bhushan. Dhindsa got the honour in 2019, soon after he left the Akali Dal to float own SAD (Democratic) party.
In his first clarification regarding why he had supported the planned changes in the farm laws at first, Badal, who is ailing and has not made a public appearance in three months, wrote, “When the Government of India had brought in ordinances, assurances were given to us that the farmers’ apprehensions would be addressed… when these were converted into Bills and Acts. Accordingly, I even appealed to the farmers to trust the Government’s word. But I was shocked when the Government simply went back on its word… That was the most painful and embarrassing moment in my long political career… I have truly begun to wonder why the Government has become so heartless, cynical, and so ungrateful to the farmers.”
Underlining the role the farmers play, Badal added, “I am conscious that I address myself to a President who presides over the destiny of a country 70% of whose population are farmers, and for the past 70 years, these farmers are serving the nation selflessly and with humility. I hardly need to repeat that the country owes a huge irreparable debt to its farmers. When the country faced hunger and humiliation in the ’60s, having to beg to world capitals, farmers brought the country out of starvation, and within three years, India, from a food-begging country, became a food-exporting country.”
Noting that “the tide was turned principally by Punjab”, he said the Green Revolution had come at the “sacrifice” of soil fertility and water — “the only two natural assets” of farmers.
“The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of farmers crying for justice in one voice in the national capital would have moved any other nation or its government. Tragically, no such sensitivity towards farmers’ pain or anger is visible here… Even before the Acts, farmers were suffering under debt and had been committing suicide. Agriculture is never a lucrative profession… and costs of agricultural inputs have been increasing… Black laws now implemented by the Government have come as the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the country’s annadata. Farmers are battling police batons, tear gas shells, water cannons… They have come to the national capital from all over the country, leaving their fields, crops and their families. They have shown incredible restraint, maturity and responsibility in keeping the protest peaceful.”
Lamenting “the conspiracies unleashed to paint this peaceful struggle as anti-national”, Badal said, “I am deeply pained by the communal insinuations… I can assure you that they (the farmers) have secular ethos running in their blood… It is amazing and unjust that lakhs of crores of corporate loans are waived off… but no one has even thought of subsidising farm debts or introducing schemes like one-time settlement. Instead the country chose to let the annadata die.”
He concluded the letter, saying, “Today I feel so poor that, at this stage of my life, I do not have much else to sacrifice to express solidarity with the farmers’ cause as one who has spent something close to a century amidst the people and especially the farmers… I would request you to use your good offices to get the government to listen to farmers with love, compassion, understanding and above all the respect that they fully deserve.”
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