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Sikh politician quits Indian government over farmer issues

Farmer leaders say policies of the Modi regime support corporates and ignore farmers

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: September 18, 2020 11:41 AM GMT
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Sikh politician quits Indian government over farmer issues

Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who has quit the federal cabinet, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (File photo) 

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Rebellion has struck the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time since the pro-Hindu leader began leading India's federal government six years ago.

Harsimrat Kaur Bada, a leader of the Sikh-dominated Akali Dal party and federal minister of food processing industries, quit the government on Sept. 17 over the Modi government's "anti-farmer" policies.

"I have resigned from the union cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister," tweeted Badal, a Sikh woman from Punjab state.

Akali Dal continues to be part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Modi. The 26-party NDA coalition has 336 seats in the 543-seat parliament.

The rebellion is no immediate threat to the Modi government as his pro-Hindu party alone has 303 seats in the house, making it the majority party to run the government.

Badal said she was quitting over three draft laws in parliament. The bills worked against farmers' interests and will increase the crisis farmers are facing because of the price fall of their produce and farm failures, she said.

Thousands of farmers commit suicide in India each year to escape debt. National Crime Records Bureau data shows 12,360 farmers or farm laborers committed suicide in 2014, up from 11,772 in 2013. 

Since 2015, after Modi came to power, the government has not published data on farmer suicides.

One of the bills has the good intention of allowing farmers to sell their produce in the open market. But farmers fear they will no longer get paid at the minimum support price decided by the government.

Bdal's parliamentarian husband and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal said his party was "never consulted" on the three draft laws and his wife had told the government that farmers in the agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana were concerned about the bill.

The new legislation "will ruin what we have created as agriculture infrastructure in Punjab in the past 50 years," he said.

Minister Badal said the government made no efforts to reach out to farmers who have been agitating in Punjab for months despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I have decided to be with the farmers who consider me their daughter and sister and sent me to the Indian parliament," she said.

Badal's resignation, observers say, is a setback for the BJP leadership as this is the first challenge to a government decision by a member of the central cabinet.

It also supports opposition allegations that the Modi government was following a pro-corporate policy while ignoring farmers and the poor.

Akali Dal, a party of the Sikh majority, has not formally yet quit the BJP-led alliance, but the move challenges the BJP's Hindu chauvinistic politics that have brought sharp criticism from two other religious minorities — Muslims and Christians.

India's Sikhs account for some 20 million of India's 1.3 billion people. Out of the total Sikhs in India, over 77 percent are concentrated in the state of Punjab bordering Pakistan.

Badal's resignation follows warnings by Punjab villagers that they will not let any leader who supports the three bills enter their villages.

Federal Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said these bills would help farmers and ensure more agriculture investment.

"After these bills become laws, competition will increase and private investment will reach villages. Farming infrastructure will be built and new employment opportunities will be generated," Tomar said.

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