Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who resigned from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet on Thursday in protest over the farm bills, told NDTV on Friday that farmers were concerned about being squeezed out of the agriculture sector by private players.
Mrs Badal said a “rustic farmer”, one among many with whom she had held consultations over the past several weeks, offered Reliance Jio’s aggressive market strategy as an example to drive home his point.
“A rustic farmer gave an example to us… ‘Jio came in, they gave free phones. When everyone bought those phones and got dependent on these phones, the competition was wiped out and Jio jacked up their rates. This is exactly what the corporates are going to do’,” Mrs Badal narrated.
Mrs Badal told NDTV that she had repeatedly asked the Narendra Modi government to listen to concerns raised by the farmers and hold open discussions with them before tabling the three bills that were passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
“I have been saying please don’t bring in a law which is perceived as anti-farmer. How can you bring in something without taking into consideration the people’s perception? I tried to convince them but my words weren’t enough. Maybe my voice was not loud enough,” she said.
The bills, which will now be taken up by the Rajya Sabha, will replace three ordinances issued in June but have triggered fierce protests from farmers, particularly those in Congress-ruled Punjab.
The government has said the proposed laws are meant to help small and marginal farmers.
However, farmers fear they will no longer get paid at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and opposition parties have claimed the agriculture sector will be left to the fate of corporate interests.
Mrs Badal pointed to these apprehensions, saying farmers feel they will be “at the mercy of these private players”. “This is the apprehension they have. The centre should talk to them to clear this fear,” she said.
Mrs Badal also said she had eventually been left with no choice and had resigned to stand in solidarity with the farmers.
However, she refused to describe the policies as “anti-farmer”. “If Prime Minister Modi’s policies were anti-farmer, Akali Dal wouldn’t have been part of the government for the past six years,” she said.
The Akali Dal, which is a founder-member of the BJP-led NDA that is in power at the centre, has come under attack from Punjab Congress for continuing to support a government pushing “anti-farmer” policies.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh yesterday dismissed Mrs Badal’s resignation as a gimmick and criticised the party for remaining a part of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance).
“Congress is synonymous with corruption and Amarinder Singh is synonymous to dhokha (fraud). He was part of three meetings, where he concurred to the bills,” Mrs Badal hit back today, pointing out that the Congress, in its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto, had promised to do what the farm bills intend to.
Today Prime Minister Modi hit out at what he said was a “misinformation” campaign against the bills and asserted that farmers would continue to get a MSP.
“Fake news is being spread that wheat and rice etc will not be procured by government agencies from farmers. This is an absolute lie, completely wrong and an attempt to deceive farmers,” he said forcefully.