On September 14, as Parliament reconvened for its monsoon session, farmers across Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana fiercely protested three agriculture-reform bills being tabled by the government. In Punjab, farmers demanded that the legislation (currently in force as ordinances) be immediately repealed. Farmers’ groups say the proposed new laws—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill—will leave them vulnerable to manipulation by the private sector. They say a free (read: unregulated) market will lead to less income security for farmers, and safety nets—such as the MSP (minimum support price) mechanism and regular procurement through APMC (Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee) mandis—will be compromised.
So fierce was the farmers’ agitation in Punjab that a core group of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a long-term BJP ally, prevailed on party chief Sukhbir Badal to publicly oppose the Centre on these bills on September 12, two days before the monsoon session was to begin—despite the fact that Harsimrat Badal, his wife, was a member of the Union cabinet. Pressure built up to a point where Harsimrat Badal found it necessary to resign her cabinet position, ‘in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation [and] to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister,’ as she later tweeted. While the SAD stand has no real bearing on the passage of these bills—it has only two members each in the houses of Parliament—the optics of a major protest by an ally will trouble the BJP. The Badals now have to walk a tightrope, having already publicly supported the ordinances, with others like Dushyant Chautala in neighbouring Haryana facing similar problems.
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September 28, 2020