Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, an MP of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the BJP’s oldest allies, resigned from the Narendra Modi Cabinet on Thursday, publicly criticising the farm policy of the government.
The SAD made a dramatic announcement of her resignation in Lok Sabha, protesting against The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill 2020, which have brought farmers in Punjab and Haryana out on the streets. The Opposition has accused the Centre of “destroying the federal structure” by bringing the Bills in Parliament.
“I have resigned from Union Cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter & sister,” Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal wrote on Twitter. “The SAD cannot be a party to anything anti-farmer,” she said.
“My decision symbolises my party’s vision, its glorious legacy and its commitment to go to any extent to safeguard the interests of the farmers,” Harsimrat said in a four-page resignation letter addressed to the Prime Minister.
“I am proud that today I am able in my humble way to take that legacy forward… That legacy will not change, come what may. The trust in farmers placed in us is sacred to us.”
Harsimrat told reporters outside Parliament that her resignation was not a “sacrifice”, only “a natural and normal course for any proud Akali Dal member”.
Despite the resignation and Harsimrat resigns over farm Bills, says can’t be party to anti-farmer law protests, however, the two Bills – which seek to replace Ordinances passed in June – were passed in Lok Sabha by voice vote.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar assured the House that the proposed legislation would “liberate” farmers. He rejected the apprehension that the new laws would lead to the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) regime.
“Contract will not lead to taking over of land. If the corporates build some infrastructure, it will only benefit the farmer in the end… Licence, Inspector Raj will end, corruption will end, and farmers and traders will be free to buy and sell anywhere in the country,” Tomar said.
Earlier, as the SAD waited for its chance to speak on the Bills, the BJP’s floor managers seemed to have no idea of what was coming.
Senior BJP leader Rajendra Agrawal was in the chair as SAD president and Ferozpur MP Sukhbir Singh Badal stood up to speak. As Sukhbir attacked the Congress for including a promise to abolish the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) in its manifesto ahead of the 2019 elections, the Treasury benches applauded. When Agrawal tried to cut Sukhbir short and called YSRCP’s Lavu Krishna Devarayalu to speak, BJP MPs pleaded with the Chair to give him more time.
As Sukhbir continued his speech, Speaker Om Birla took the Chair. Sukhbir spoke against the Congress again, and then said: “I would like to make an announcement that Harsimrat Kaur would resign from the government in protest.” Before the Treasury benches and Opposition MPs realised what was happening, Sukhbir walked out of the House with Harsimrat. He returned later to take part in the debate that was still continuing.
The SAD had issued a three-line whip to its MPs in both Houses to vote against the Bills, if there was voting.
“Its quite natural,” SAD’s Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral told The Indian Express, referring to the resignation. “We cannot be part of the government when we have decided to vote against a Bill which was the decision of the Cabinet. There is a collective responsibility for the decisions of the Union Cabinet,” Gujral said.
Harsimrat’s resignation is a major setback for the BJP. It has lost another traditional ally after the Shiv Sena, which broke away last year. The BJP fought accusations of being anti-farmer when it pushed the land acquisition Bill; it will now have to counter similar charges again.
The impression that the party is a poor coalition manager comes just ahead of the Bihar election, which will be fought amid increasing unemployment, the crisis of migrants, and the economic slowdown.
Both Sukhbir and Harsmirat said she had tried her best to persuade the Cabinet to take the actual stakeholders, the farmers, on board and allay their apprehensions. “The Minister expressed her objections at every platform available to her. We have written a number of letters to the concerned Minister,” Sukhbir said.
“As a state we have always focused on the farming sector. We ushered in the Green Revolution and we fed the nation. Fifty per cent of the foodgrain comes from Punjab and it’s a state that is 100 per cent irrigated,” he said. The Bills, he said, would “spell doomsday” for Punjab’s farmers.
Gujral pointed out that the SAD could not possibly support these Bills. “Our cadre is farmers. The Bills have created a perception that they are against the farmers. Ninety per cent of the farmers are on the streets, how can we support the Bills?” he asked.
Meanwhile, in Punjab, the Congress MLA from Fatehgarh Sahib, Kuljit Singh Nagra, resigned from the Vidhan Sabha to protest the passage of the Bills in Lok Sabha.
“I do not want to continue to be in Vidhan Sabha as an elected representative on a day when Lok Sabha passes Bills that would ruin the farmers,” Nagra told The Indian Express.
With inputs from Kanchan Vasdev, Chandigarh
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