Punjab-based Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is the oldest ally of the ruling front at the Centre, National Democratic Allilance (NDA). The sole SAD representative in the current central cabinet and minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaul Badal declared her resignation on Thursday night But SAD also made it clear that it will continue in the ruling alliance. Given the present party equations, even if SAD withdraws its support to NDA, it is not going to alter the national political equations. However, in Punjab's politics, BJP can do little without the partnership of SAD. What provoked SAD to take such a radical step was three bills moved by the government related to farmers that were meant to replace the ordinances issued in June.
The three controversial bills are 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. On first hearing, all the three bills would sound like being beneficial to agriculturists. But farmer organisations charge that the first of the three will do particular harm to them. They allege that it contains covert provisions for gradual withdrawal of Minimum Support Price (MSP) that exists today. The bills does not expressly state whether MSP will be continued or withdrawn. The approved agency that collects produce from the farmers directly is the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) who collect the produce by paying the support price fixed by the government. Farmers of north Indian states market their produce through these agencies. But the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce Bill ends the monopoly of APMC in collection of produce. What the farmer bodies allege is that this will gradually end up in abolition of the very system of support price. While introducing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Centre did not declare that they will strip Muslims of their citizenship, but every one knows that it is their goal. And it is the same that is going to happen in the case of farmers bill.
The BJP is still under the notion that it can make any law they wish to make, by using its brute majority in parliament. The anti-CAA protests had caused a severe blow to that notion. The current rage of farmers in northern states mainly in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh is also a setback to the fond ambitions of the BJP. Farmers' agitations are escalating and bringing roads and city squares to a halt. As it happened in the anti-CAA protests, these uprisings have also sprung without a call by any particular political party, but instead as a reflection of the genuine anger of the farmers. It remains to be seen whether the opposition is capable of taking forward the farmer rage in north India in its true spirit and of evolving it into a major agitation by lending political support to it. Parties like the Congress, AAP and CPM have declared support to the strike but it is doubtful if the Congress has the leadership potential and imagination to adopt the protest and take it to a concrete level.
Even as the streets were witnessing the farmer strikes, there was another notable protest taking place in parliament compound. i.e. the protest on Thursday against the Centre's stand of not paying the arrears of compensation for GST (Goods and Services Tax) revenue deficit (which the Centre is bound to pay the states), staged by MPs from Opposition parties other than Congress and CPM. GST is basically a regime that rocks the economic self-reliance of states. The law provides for the Centre to make good the losses incurred by the states due to the implementation of GST. The Centre has withheld even this amount. The protest was organised by parties including Trinamool Congress, NCP, Samajwadi party, AAP, TRS, DMK, Shiv Sena and RJD. The absence of Congress in this move was conspicuous. It is indeed unfortunate, If the chief opposition party cannot be part of such protests that arise spontaneously against a government that plunges the country to an abyss each passing day.