In a setback to the ruling BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that it heads, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Saturday quit the alliance over the farm bills issue, the third major party to walk out of the BJP-led coalition in the last couple of years.
SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal announced the decision to snap ties with the NDA on Saturday night, amid stepped up agitation by farmers in Punjab over the three legislations which were recently passed by Parliament amid Opposition protests.
Badal’s wife and SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal had on September 17 quit the Union Cabinet after he strongly opposed the bills in Lok Sabha, claiming these legislations will ‘destroy’ the agriculture sector in Punjab.
“The highest decision-making body of the Shiromani Akali Dal at its emergency meeting here tonight decided unanimously to pull out of the BJP-led NDA alliance,” he said, adding the SAD was the oldest ally of the BJP, but the government did not listen to it on honouring the sentiments of farmers.
The SAD wanted the government to incorporate the sentiments of Punjab’s farmers in the bills, “but sorry to say that they forcefully brought the bills in Parliament and got them passed,” the SAD chief said.
Today the entire leadership decided that these bills, which were brought by the Centre, are ‘anti-Punjab and in the real sense, against the farmers of the country,’ he said, adding that ‘we can no longer be part of the NDA.’
Badal said he had also requested the Centre to include Punjabi in the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020. But this was also not accepted by the government, he said.
“Therefore, considering all these things, the entire leadership of the SAD has unanimously decided that the party will not be a part of the NDA. We had already resigned from the government,” he said.
The decision came at the end of a marathon meeting lasting over three hours. Senior BJP leader Madan Mohan Mittal described the SADs decision as ‘taken in haste.’
Mittal told PTI that the Punjab unit of the BJP has called its core committee on Sunday to discuss and deliberate on this issue. The SAD is the third major NDA constituent to pull out of the alliance after the Shiv Sena and the TDP.
Other allies who left
The Sena had parted ways with the BJP and joined hands with the Congress and the NCP to form a government in Maharashtra in November last year, while the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had quit the NDA in March 2018. The BJP has a comfortable majority on its own in Lok Sabha.
According to a statement issued by SAD here, Badal said the decision to quit the NDA was taken ‘because of the Centre’s stubborn refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect assured marketing of farmers crops on MSP and its continued insensitivity to Punjabi and Sikh issues like excluding the Punjabi language as the official language in Jammu and Kashmir.’
The Modi government has maintained that the MSP system will stay and has accused the opposition of misleading farmers on the issue. Badal said the SAD will continue to stand by its core principles of peace and communal harmony and will guard the interest of Punjab and Punjabi in general, and Sikhs and farmers in particular.
He said the decision has been taken in consultation with the people of Punjab, especially party workers and farmers. Badal said the Bills on agricultural marketing brought by the BJP-led government are lethal and disastrous for the already beleaguered farmers.
“If pain and protests of three crore Punjabis fail to melt the rigid stance of the Centre, it is no longer the NDA envisioned by Vajpayee ji and Badal sahab,” Harsimrat tweeted. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh termed the SADs decision to quit the NDA as “nothing more than a desperate case of political compulsion for the Badals.”
“Clearly @Akali_Dal_ was left with no choice after @BJP4India exposed that @Officeofssbadal and his SAD were fully party to Anti-Farmer legislations,” he tweeted.
“The end of the coalition is only an outcome of 3 months of deceit…of defending the indefensible and misguiding the Punjab farmer,” Singh said.
Reacting to the development, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala hailed it as a ‘victory’ of ‘farmers-labourers.’ “Supporters of black laws, Akali Dal, had to leave NDA and break ties with the Modi government,” he said.
“They had to bow at the doorstep of farmers-labourers,” Surjewala tweeted, tagging an old clip of Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal defending the farm ordinances in an interview she gave when she was a Union minister.
The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis). This, the government says, is aimed at facilitating remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potato from the list of essential commodities and will do away with the imposition of stock holding limits.
The SAD had sought from the BJP-led central government not to bring the bills in Parliament till ‘all reservations’ expressed by farmers are ‘duly addressed.’ But when the Centre did not pay heed, the Akali Dal asked it to send the farm bills to a select committee which was also not accepted. Thereafter, Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest against the bills.
Earlier, the SAD had been maintaining that the Centre had assured that these ordinances would have no bearing on the existing crop procurement policy. SAD’s alliance with the NDA dates back to 1997. Akali stalwart Parkash Singh Badal used to describe ties with the BJP as nau-mass da rishta (ties like nail and flesh). As per the arrangement, SAD used to contest assembly polls on 94 seats while BJP used to fight on 23 seats in Punjab.
Out of 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, BJP used to nominate its contestants in Hoshiarpur, Amritsar and Gurdaspur while Akalis used to contest on the remaining 10 seats.
(With inputs from Agencies)