Punjab and Peasantry politics: Harsimrat Kaur Badal quits Modi Cabinet

    18-Sep-2020   
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New Delhi: Charity begins at home. So, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about politics without 'dynastic' families – has he unruffled some unexpected quarters? Are two dynastic-based political parties uncomfortable with Modi's 'New India' politics where one has to come up the ladder the hard way?
 
The Shiv Sena, ironically BJP's oldest ally in Maharashtra, is already singing another tune.
 
Come to Punjab and the Union Food Processing Industry Minister and Akali 'bahu' – Harsimrat Kaur Badal – staged a walkout in Lok Sabha on Thursday and quit the Modi cabinet. The issue is said to be three contentious farm Bills.
 
"I have resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister," Harsimrat Kaur Badal tweeted.
 
The three contentious Bills in questions are - The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance.
 
Hours before announcing her decision to quit the cabinet, Harsimrat Kaur Badal in her missive in the microblogging site had written - "Warm birthday wishes to our hon'ble PM Narendra Modi. Your tireless efforts and dedication to make India' Atamnirbhar (self-reliant)' are inspirational for all of us".
 
But one of the Bills in debate seeks to ensure opportunities for farmers to sell their produce in open markets. So, what's wrong in that? Well, the commission agents – who have been dominating the Agri marketing scene for ages in Maharashtra or Punjab – have reasons to be upset. Punjab has over 12 lakh farming families and quite a substantial 28,000 registered commission agents.
 
But if the issue is political, has the BJP taken a risk in antagonizing the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is formally in alliance with the saffron outfit since the 1990s?
 
In a crude sense, one can wonder can there be a political life for the BJP in Sikh-stronghold Punjab without Badals?
 
Come to hardcore politics, no party in Indian politics is as much an ear-on-ground outfit as the BJP. Thus, the whispering heard even a few months back that the saffron party leaders have been 'interacting' with S S Dhindsa, a senior Akali Dal leader who quit the Badals-led party makes a lot of sense as in September 2020. In the context of Harsimrat Kaur's resignation, one also finds logic in BJP trying to reach out to another Akali dissident R S Brahmpura. Who has floated Akali Dal (Taksali)?
 
The BJP-led regime in the centre played a soft 'outreach' politics when it awarded the veteran Dhindsa with Padma Bhushan in 2019.
 
The grapevine is Sukhbir Singh Badal, and his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal was not aware of the central government's intent.
 
Of course, personally, Modi has always held senior Badal – Parkash Singh Badal – in high esteem and during filing of nominations from Varanasi last year even touched his feet in front of the cameras.
 
Looking from another angle, it is pretty clear that the Akali Dal's decision to quit the Modi government also had political compulsion as villagers in Malwa region in Punjab have warned they will not let any leader who supports the three contentious Bills enter the villages.
 
Peasantry certainly is the 'backbone' of the Akali Dal vote-bank in Punjab and Badals could ill-afford alienating the masses further especially after the party suffered a humiliating defeat in 2017. The joke in Punjab is Akali's drubbing was worse than the Congress defeat in 2014 polls. Akali strength was reduced to just 15 seats out of 117.
 
In contrast, the AAP had won 20 seats. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls too, NDA show was not at all good, and Akali Dal could only win two seats - Harsimrat Kaur badal (Bathinda) and her husband Sukhbir Singh Badal (from Ferozpur). The Akali Dal sources say Badals knew of their losing ground in Punjab and hence the party has been showing interest lately to expand its electoral base outside Punjab. But Sikhs being one of the pragmatic of Indian communities, in any part of the country – they have befriended local parties, learnt the local language and even made it to assemblies and Parliament.
 
The BJP's own S S Ahluwalia, a prominent Sikh Parliamentarian, represented Bardhaman-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat having wrested it from Trinamool in 2019. Earlier, he represented Darjeeling on a BJP ticket.
 
Rachhpal Singh is a Trinamool leader who represented Tarakeshwar assembly constituency and was Minister for Planning under Mamata Banerjee.
 
In Odisha, two Sikh legislators – one belonging to Biju Janata Dal and the other from Congress - were elected in 2019.
 
India's Sikh population at present would be around 21, accounting for 1.75 per cent of the country's total population. Out of the total Sikhs in India, over 77 per cent are concentrated in the state of Punjab bordering Pakistan.
 
The country's national capital - New Delhi – certainly has a substantial number of Sikh populations.
 
Manjinder Singh Sirsa of Akali Dal represents Rajouri Garden constituency and has lately made news when he sought to support the BJP stance on the issue of drug menace in Bollywood. He has lodged a formal complaint with the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) against filmmaker Karan Johar.
 
Of course, Manjinder Singh Sirsa has backed Harsimrat Kaur Badal's move to resign to protect the interest of farmers.
 
"....her action shows her commitment to farmers," Sirsa tweeted.