The passing of the Agriculture acts reveals the complexities of Punjab politics, and the struggle for power between the SAD, BJP, INC, and other parties. In the midst of the pandemic and while the country was under lockdown, the government passed three ordinances relating to the Agriculture sector. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.
The introduction of these ordinances, supposedly aimed at increasing freedom for farmers, creating a ‘one nation one market’, and so on, were widely opposed by farmers across the country, who led many protests in the months of July and August. Farmers, especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana, took out many tractor protests against the ordinances, and on 8th August, farmers joined the nationwide ‘Save India’ campaign that protested against the center’s anti-people policies.
They cheated. They broke every rule in Parliament. It was a historic day. In the worst sense of the word. They cut RSTV feed so the country couldn't see. They censored RSTV. Don’t spread propaganda. We have evidence. But first watch this pic.twitter.com/y4Nh9Vu9DA
— Derek O'Brien | ডেরেক ও'ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) September 20, 2020
In this monsoon session of the Parliament, the bills were passed amidst strong opposition and ridiculous techniques to stifle opposition by the party in power. TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien accused the BJP of silencing 13 opposition parties and breaking the rules of parliamentary procedure in order to pass the bills. The Rajya Sabha TV feed was also cut off while these proceedings took place.
Impact on Punjab Politics and BJP-Akali Alliance
On September 17, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal’s leader and Cabinet Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Union Government in protest of these legislations as well. This was notable as the SAD has been a long time ally of the BJP.
The movement against the ordinances at first and now the Acts has been extremely strong since August in Punjab, which is recorded to have 12 lakh farming families and 28,000 registered commission agents, and the State government collected Rs 3,600 crore as revenue from agricultural trade fees in the last year itself. The issue of these agriculture acts is then very crucial to Punjab, however, until recently, political leaders in the State have been negligent and avoided taking a stand in the issue.
Until August, most protests were mainly opposing Modi, and the protestors were criticised for their closeness to the Akali leaders. But soon, the farmers openly opposed the Akalis, who were pressured to either leave their alliance with the BJP or accept that they too are anti-farmer.
Now after the resignation, it is clear that the BJP-Akali alliance in Punjab is at risk. Keeping in mind the constantly shifting popularity of the Akali Dal in Punjab, the BJP has not yet ascertained its strategy for the future. While sometimes they proclaim that their BJP-Akali alliance will last forever, at other times some or the other BJP minister announces that they will stand for elections on their own.
With Aam Aadmi Party, one thing is clear that in spite of their complete political immaturity in the worst of scenarios, their leaders are still not excluded from the centre of political discourse in Punjab because the people of the state are still holding out hope for an honest and strong political option outside of the traditionally powerful political parties of the state.
The dictatorial attitude of the national leadership of AAP, and their mindless indifference and opportunistic silence on the issues in Punjab will once again, ruin whatever remaining chances AAP has in the state. The farmers also understand the two-faced politics of Kejriwal and hence, while Bhagwant Mann of AAP is standing behind the farmers, the farmers don’t support Bhagwant Mann just yet.
Having separated himself from the Akali Dal, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa may have opened his own Akali Dal (Democratic) Party, but there are no signs that it will necessarily be successful. There are hopes that the BSP will see a gain in popularity after Jasvir Singh Garhi has been made the chief.
While leftists too are mostly absent from the political scenario of Punjab, some Marxist-Leninist leaders like Sukhdev Natt can be seen working with sincerity in people’s causes in areas like Mansa. The national youth leader of the left is, on the other hand, distant from local issues and cannot be seen engaging on the ground.
While those in power in Delhi may be dictators or fascists, they are carrying out all of their anti-people actions with discipline and unity, unlike the opposition. They can only be defeated when every big and small force comes together and fights them with unfaltering conviction and unity. For this, farmers and workers across the country will need to come together. But the situation is that in this fight, many state governments are nowhere to be seen.