Updated: March 12, 2021 9:42:31 am
CALLING his own party “the biggest farmers’ party in the country”, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should repeal the farm laws, adding that “in a country as diverse as India, we need a PM who can handle situations instead of forcing his way through”. In an interview with MANRAJ GREWAL SHARMA, he laid out his strategy to corner the ruling Congress in Punjab:
What is the way out of the stalemate between the farmer unions and the government?
The PM has very fixed thoughts, and he is very rigid about his decisions. He is not ready to backtrack on any of his decisions, which is not right in a democracy. In a democracy there is always give and take. This (rigidity) happens in dictatorships…by someone like Putin. In a country as diverse as India we need a PM who can handle situations instead of forcing his way through.
How do you foresee the agitation going forward?
When we were in the government, we told them (Centre) that it’s a mass movement and people won’t go back as you are affecting their livelihood. Farmers are convinced that they will lose their land and livelihood. When people are pushed to the wall, they have no option but to fight. That is the reason this agitation has lasted so long. It has spread from one state to another, and it continues to spread. In their hearts, every farmer is convinced that these laws must be withdrawn.
PM Modi called up to greet your father on his birthday in December. Has he or the party reached out to you?
What about the toolkit row and the allegations of foreign hand behind the agitation that has also led to a lot of name calling?
Toolkit is a diversionary tactic. There is no foreign hand. They are poor farmers, old ladies sitting on the streets, what foreign hand?
The present government tends to browbeat any party or individual who doesn’t agree with them. All those who agree with them are nationalists, those who don’t are anti-national. But who needs a certificate of patriotism from this government? Also, if you call farmers Khalistanis, why are you talking to them?
Leave aside the three laws, there is no denying that there is a crisis in agriculture, largely due to the failure of successive state governments in Punjab to steer the farmers out of the wheat-paddy cycle, and create jobs in allied sectors.
Do these laws guarantee diversification? Do they guarantee employment? Give me one example of how they will create more jobs. The best mandi system, the best purchase system in the country is in Punjab, why don’t they replicate the Punjab system across the country?
Even today, private players can come to Punjab and purchase crops, but at least they are under a monitor. There is a government hand protecting the farmers. Why doesn’t the Modi government give army and police to private players?
But don’t you think agriculture needs reforms?
Agriculture needs reforms, but practical reforms, not bookish ones. We need more cold chains, more food processing. Only 20 per cent of our food is processed in India against 80 per cent in Poland. Incentivise food processing, encourage the export of processed food.
These laws were drawn up by a bureaucratic system… We were not called even once for discussion. We are a farmers’ party. We don’t know who is taking the decision, models decided in European countries don’t work in emerging countries.
So is repeal the only way out?
The government has made laws that people do not want, why should the government not blink? Modi will emerge a much stronger and taller leader if he withdraws these laws. Every PM does not do everything right. A person who admits his weakness is a bigger person. And a more liked person.
But the government says it’s mainly the state of Punjab which is protesting, the rest are not.
The state that provides 60 percent of the food to the country, does it know better or the others? If a decision has to be taken on steel or coal, we will be the most unsuited to do so, it has to be taken by the likes of Jharkhand.
What about job creation, everyone agrees that marginal farmers need jobs to survive.
They should encourage agriculture allied industry like dairy, bee keeping etc.
Do you support the 75 per cent quota for locals mooted by the Haryana government?
It’s a very ticklish issue. Everyone looks at their votebank. These decisions are taken accordingly. Look at the Industries Act of Haryana for the last 10 years, look at the Punjab Industries Act, these also say the same thing, but no one implements it.
The Punjab CM says he has fulfilled 84.6 per cent of the promises he made in his manifesto.
Name five promises that his government has fulfilled in entirety. Or just one that has been fulfilled completely. Capt Amarinder Singh has ruined the state, I have never seen a government running the way it is running now, completely cut off from the people. There is rampant corruption, scam after scam, they behave as if there is Governor’s rule. I challenge Capt Amarinder to name one road, one airport which he has brought to the state in the last four years.
What is your strategy in the run-up to the polls considering that you were badly bruised in the last Assembly polls?
We have started a movement, ‘Punjab mangda jawab’. People want answers.
Also, we did not get a huge drubbing the last time. Akalis got a vote share of 31 per cent, Congress had 37 per cent and AAP got 21 per cent. In the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, the AAP vote share fell from 21 per cent to 6 per cent. Our gap of 6 per cent (with Congress) was reduced to just 1.5 per cent in the LS polls.
What about the civic polls results? Congress made a clean sweep.
The civic polls were no polls. Five hundred of our candidates were not allowed to file their nominations. We were able to file nominations on only 1,500 out of the 2,300 seats. The biggest example is Zira where no party was allowed to file nominations except for Congress. Have you ever heard this happen in a democracy?
What about the issue of sacrilege that cast a shadow on the 2017 polls?
People have realized that it was a propaganda by Congress to defame the Akalis. Akali Dal is a Sikh party, how can you blame it for sacrilege?
You are credited with turning Akali Dal, a panthic party, into a Punjabi party? Will there be a return to the panth now?
People from all communities are members of our party. We are the panth, we represent the panth, and we are a Punjabi party. We follow the teachings of our gurus. They taught us secularism, they taught us ‘sarbat da bhala’. We are merely following the teachings of our gurus.
The SAD-BJP combine was considered a guarantor of communal harmony in Punjab. Now that the alliance has come apart, will things change?
We guarantee communal harmony. That has been the basis of my father’s political life, and it is a legacy that we are carrying forward.
What about the Opposition within, from Akali stalwarts who said they were the real Akali Dal?
The Opposition has vanished, they are no more in the field.
There is talk on the streets that any party supported or floated by farmer unions will win the next elections.
The biggest farming party in the country is Shiromani Akali Dal. I don’t want to comment on the workings of the unions. We have 100 years of history, we represent every section, we have credibility, people have faith in this organisation. And people have seen how Congress has destroyed the state. Out of all the political parties, Akali Dal is the only true Punjabi party. As for the agitation, our workers are taking part in it. Our Delhi Gurudwara Management Committee is providing langar and support to the protesting farmers.
What about the coming together of Jats and Dalits, the kisan-mazdoor unity that the agitation has forged?
Sardar Parkash Singh Badal has done a lot for the Dalits. Be it the atta-dal scheme or the Shagun scheme for the marriage of SC girls, these are all his initiatives. He has also built all their religious sites.
Are you looking at 2022 with trepidation or hope?
It will be a clean sweep, Congress is gone.
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