Modi’s assurance to farmers late, should’ve come a month ago: Harsimrat

Shiromani Akali Dal leader shares grouse of farmers over agri bills passed in LS, says she failed to convince govt about Punjab’s problems and asserts that she will protest with farmers if need be

Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Photo: PTI

Harsimrat Kaur Badal who resigned from the NDA Cabinet over three farm bills passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday (September 17), has said that she was left with no other option, but to resign after having failed to convince the government to reconsider the ordinances.

Even though the bills propose to do away with the middleman from the market, Badal said the particular group, known as ‘arhtiyas’ play a key role in the procurement process in Punjab, and cannot be dismissed right away.

“I could not make my Cabinet colleagues understand that my apprehensions related to the farm bills were different from those in other parts of the country,” she told Hindustan Times.

“In Punjab, middlemen, or arhtiyas, play a key role in the procurement which may not be a case in other states. I took up their issue at every level and at every forum I could, but I couldn’t convince them, so, I took onus on myself. Also, I think I was probably the lone voice who came from a 100% agrarian state. The officers who made the ordinances were unable to see Punjab differently from rest of the country,” she added.

Related news: Why are 3 agri bills angering India’s farmers?

With farmers in Punjab and Haryana vehemently protesting against the three bills, which they fear will give corporates the upper hand in the procurement process and render the government-fixed minimum support price (MSP) irrelevant, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a series of tweets on Friday (September 18) assured farmers that they need not be afraid of such apprehensions, floated by the Opposition. Modi said the bills will empower farmers with the opportunity to sell their produce anywhere at competitive prices.

Harsimrat, said the prime minister’s assurance was late and would have helped had it come a month before when her party Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was raising the concerns of the farmers with the government.

““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,” she told Indian Express.

Harsimrat asserted that the government should have addressed the fear of the farmers and held discussions with them before tabling and passing the bills.

To NDTV, she recounted her conversation with a “rustic farmer” who to explain his fears about the new farm bills, cited the example of Reliance Jio’s market strategy.

“A rustic farmer gave an example to us… ‘Jio came in, they gave free phones. When everyone bought those phones and got dependent on these phones, the competition was wiped out and Jio jacked up their rates. This is exactly what the corporates are going to do’,” she said.

Harsimrat said she may have failed to convince the government on the “farmers’ grouse” but will support them, and even participate in their protests if need be.

Even though the matter has created a wedge between BJP and its long-time ally SAD in the NDA alliance, Badal said the alliance is intact and her party will decide on the future course of action.

Related news: Needed: Ecosystem approach to help farmers reap benefits of agri reforms

Badal’s husband and party president Sukhbir Singh Badal, also an MP from Ferozepur said the party over the past few months had tried tooth and nail to convince the government to address the concern of the farmers, and was promised that all the apprehensions will be taken care of, but the same didn’t reflect in the bills.

“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 told IE.

Both Harsimrat and Sukhbir rubbished allegations of first supporting the bills and then retracing due to pressure from farmers, their chief vote bank.

“It doesn’t matter what my opponents say. They need to first answer why they got the APMC Act amended in Punjab. Why, in 2017 and 2019, the Congress manifesto promised laws similar to the ordinances? Why the doublespeak? They opposed in Parliament and implemented in Punjab… the corrupt Congress government can’t raise aspersions on us,” the former minister of Food Processing Industries said.

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