In Harsimrat’s resignation, SAD sees opportunity to regain lost ground
ANALYSIS Any further delay and the political game may have slipped out of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s hands as its credentials as a party of peasants was at stake
The Shiromani Akali Dal decision to make Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Narendra Modi cabinet is seen as a political course correction to retain its base among Punjab’s farmers, the SAD’s core constituency.
Thursday’s decision was in protest against the passage of the three farm bills in the Lok Sabha. The bills are construed as anti-farmer by its opponents who fear it will end the minimum support price (MSP), the assured and open-ended procurement system for foodgrains in practice for 60 years.
Many see the last-minute move by the SAD as “full of wisdom” because any further delay and the political game may have slipped out of the party’s hands. But the decision was not easy for the Akalis because it had been supporting the bills since their promulgation in June. It found itself pushed to the wall as the farmers’ protest gathered momentum across the state. The SAD’s credentials as a party of peasants was at stake.
CONGRESS ON OFFENSIVE, SAD ON DEFENSIVE
The Congress-ruled government in the state has upped the ante by announcing a legal recourse against the farm bills, terming them “a precursor to dismantling of the MSP system”.
Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh went a step further, saying all cases against farmers for violating prohibitory orders during the protests in Covid times will be withdrawn.
On the contrary, SAD president and Harsimrat’s husband, Sukhbir Singh Badal, had been reiterating the Centre’s assurances that the reforms will have no bearing on the MSP. He did so at press conferences on June 25 and August 27 and even made public a letter by Union agriculture minister NS Tomar.
The Panthic party panicked when efforts to touch base with farmers failed and party cadres conveyed feedback from the ground that it would be the end of the game for the Akali Dal if it continued toeing the BJP-led Centre’s line.
Already on the backfoot since the sacrilege incidents of 2015 when it was in power, the Akalis can’t afford to lose more ground.
U-TURN IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?
Party leaders such as Prem Singh Chandumajra and Sikandar Singh Maluka had been asking Badal to pull out its lone member from the Union cabinet. “I think now we are headed in the right direction,” Chandumajra said after Harsimrat’s resignation.
It was as recently as on September 12 that the party’s core committee took a U-turn and for the first time announced opposing the farm bills in Parliament. On the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament, the SAD made a last-ditch effort to avert a flashpoint when it urged the Centre to refer the bills to a select parliamentary committee and take farmer organisations on board.
The SAD subsequently issued a whip to its MPs in both Houses of Parliament to vote against the farm bills, a move that queered the pitch for Harsimrat’s resignation. “The SAD can’t be party to anything that is anti-farmer” she said, adding she was hurt that despite her and her party’s pleas, farmers were not taken on board.
NOT WRECKERS OF THE ALLIANCE YET
Harsimrat’s exit is a setback for the long-standing SAD-BJP alliance though she reiterated the continuation of the alliance. “We don’t want to be seen as wreckers of the alliance. We will wait for the BJP’s response,” a senior Akali leader said.
Being an agrarian state, political stakes for all parties over this issue are high in Punjab. Farmers form a decisive group of the electorate. All parties have come out in their support. The Congress, the SAD and the AAP are convinced that farmers can turn the tide in their favour with the state going to the polls in 2022.
The state BJP, however, sticks to its party’s central unit stand that in the long run, the bills will benefit farmers by eliminating middlemen and its alliance partner, the SAD, should have stayed on.