Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has urged President Ram Nath Kovind to “please stand by farmers” and not sign off on two of three hugely controversial farm bills passed by the Rajya Sabha today amid scenes of unprecedented chaos and uproar.
Mr Badal, who has said the Akalis – the BJP’s oldest ally, and who initially supported the bills – are reviewing ties with ruling party, requested the President to appeal to the government on behalf of farmers, warning “otherwise they will never forgive us”.
“Please do not sign the bills on farm issues. Please stand by the farmers, kisan mazdoors, arthiyas, Mandi labourers and Dalits. Don’t let the annadata (God of food) starve or sleep on the roads. Please intervene on their behalf… otherwise they will never forgive us,” Mr Badal said in his appeal.
The Akali chief also asked President Kovind to send the bills back to parliament and said their passage marked a “sad day for the country’s millions and for democracy”.
Earlier today, during the first half of the debate in parliament, Akali MP Naresh Gujral said: “Don’t think that the farmers of Punjab are weak”
Two agriculture sector-related bills were cleared by the Rajya Sabha today and are set to become law once the President signs them. He is allowed to return them for more discussion, but just the one time. If the bill is returned, he must give his assent.
The bills were cleared after a vociferous protest (and physical confrontation) by the opposition and amid allegations of cheating and the “murder of democracy”.
They sailed through the Lok Sabha earlier after the opposition walked out. The dissenting MPs included the Akalis’ Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who resigned from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet in protest.
On Friday night, after Mrs Badal’s resignation, Sukhbir Singh Badal spoke to NDTV and said the Akali Dal would review its ties with the BJP.
The Akalis had initially said they would support the bills. However, the intensity of protests from farmers – who are their key constituency – seemed to lead them to reconsider that support.
Mr Badal told NDTV that the party “spent two months trying to convince the government” but “now, since the bill is done, we cannot go back”. Mrs Badal called for more communication between the farmers and the central government, and that she resigned because she could not facilitate that communication.
The government has said the bills will help small and marginal farmers secure competitive prices. Farmers are concerned the bills eliminate the Minimum Support Price (MSP) now guaranteed by the government. The opposition worry the bills will benefit corporate interests at the expense of farmers.