The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Thursday claimed that 40 out of the 54 farmers who have died during the protests at Delhi are from the party cadre even as farmer union leaders rubbished the statement and pointed out how Akali leaders had not even been allowed to attend the last rites of these peasants.
In an interaction with The Indian Express, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said his party workers are heavily involved in the ongoing agitation for the repeal of the three central farm laws.
“Our rank and file is at Delhi borders protesting against farm laws, not as SAD workers but as farmers,” Sukhbir said. He added that 65 of the party’s constituency in-charge are at Delhi. “Our Youth Akali Dal workers have made a tent city at the borders. A number of them are party office-bearers at the block and village level,” he claimed, calling the agitation a public movement. “It hardly matters which political party you belong to”.
Farmer union leaders, however, expressed their surprise at Sukhbir’s claims.
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan) said, “It is news for me that 40 of the deceased are from SAD cadre. A few farmers may be voters of a particular party but you can’t term voters as cadre”.
Kokrikalan said all farmer unions are at great pains to keep themselves away from any political party. Calling it a compulsion of political parties to align with the protest to keep their vote bank alive, he asked, “If political parties are so concerned about farmers, why can’t they organise a separate dharna at any one Delhi border and see how much support they get”.
Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary of BKU (Dakaunda) and working committee member of All India Kisan Sangrash Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), said he welcomed the fact that people from different political parties are joining the protest after leaving behind their party flags and badges. “We don’t agree to the fact that 40 farmers who died at Delhi border were from SAD’s cadre. Their leaders are not even allowed to speak at bhog ceremonies of farmers. In one such incident on December 15, families did not allow SAD’s general secretary Prem Singh Chandumajra to speak at the bhog ceremony,” he added.
Sukhbir, meanwhile, said that that Akali Dal even cancelled their political conference at the historic Maghi Mela in Muktsar for the first time as their cadre is at Delhi borders.
The Akali Dal makes it a point to pay condolence to the farmers who died at Delhi borders on their social media pages. The party-led Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has given Rs 1 lakh each to the families of the farmers who have died during the course of the agitation in Punjab or at Delhi borders.
Sukhbir said, “The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has regularly organised langars for farmers, are making arrangements for their stay and their president Manjinder Singh Sirsa is working at the borders like a sewadaar and not as a politician, despite the fact that he is core committee member of the SAD. We fully support the agitation of farmers and I have advised my workers to go in large numbers at borders so as to get the laws repealed”.
He added, “In fact, it is not only a movement of farmers but also of doctors, lawyers, NRIs.. in short, people from every community are supporting the farmers. The government should understand the sentiments of people and repeal the laws, which farmers never wanted, or the agitation is going to grow stronger each day”.
He said that the PM “should not play with the sentiments of the people involved in this historic movement and must take back these laws as farmers never wanted them”.
On BJP leaders’ comments that the government will not be able to frame any law if groups start protesting and demanding a repeal, the Akali Dal chief asked, “Did anyone want these laws? We were the allies of the BJP in the NDA… we represent the peasants in Punjab and we were not even consulted. They passed the laws in a hurry and now have so many excuses when asked to repeal them”.
Asked about his party’s prospects after breaking up with the BJP, Sukhbir said, “We are much stronger and getting excellent response in the 23 constituencies from where BJP used to contest the Assembly elections when we were in alliance”.
Asked if he regrets breaking up with the BJP, Sukhbir said,”I don’t want to comment on this issue.” However. he added, “BJP is playing divisive games, and issuing statements to disturb peace of Punjab by calling farmers as terrorists, urban Naxals… this way they are instigating people with a target on votes of a particular section and religion. They are making efforts to disturb the peace of Punjab, which we cannot afford…This is the reason I called BJP as the real Tukde Tukde gang”.
The SAD chief said his party will form the next government in Punjab. “Municipal council polls are going to be held and the results will be a trailer for 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections after which we we will be forming the government and that too with full majority”.
He said the SAD will make a clean sweep in the municipal council polls and the “the Congress will see their position in urban areas”.
“Akali Dal is a farmers’ party and 90 per cent of the farmers support it. The 2022 polls will be different and will give a landmark victory to the SAD,” he said, adding the ruling Congress has not fulfilled any of the promise it had made. “The CM hardly steps out of his mansion and people are fed up of him. His ministers are involved in sand mafia, drug mafia etc. He is playing a drama in which he ( CM) is supporting farmers while Congress government had implemented these three farm laws in Punjab in 2017 itself. Even if the central government repeals its three laws, Punjab’s laws will still remain in force. He too needs to repeal the laws passed by his government,” he said.
Continuing with his attack on Capt Amarinder Singh, Sukhbir said, “I feel that Punjab CM is acting more like a BJP CM as he is passing on all orders, which are coming from Home Minister Amit Shah. He is working in coordination with the Centre on how to wind up the farmers’ aandolan. The latest (in that effort) is by lodging fake FIRs against people. One was lodged in Hoshiarpur in BJP leader Tikshan Sud’s case and another in Dhanaula when people protested against BJP leader Harjeet Grewal.”