The ongoing farmers protests against the three farm ordinances introduced by the central government in June this year have shaken the Shiromani Akali Dal- Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Punjab. In a major blow central minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Union Cabinet.

She resigned in protest against the three ordinances - the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 - saying the SAD could never be a party to any decision that goes against the interests of the farmers.

“My decision symbolizes my party’s vision, its glorious legacy and its commitment to go to any extent to safeguard the interests of the farmers,” she said in a four-page letter of resignation addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ironically, just a few days ago her party was defending the very same ordinances but the farmers anger has clearly worried the Akali Dal leadership.

The farmers protests in Punjab against the three farm ordinances have escalated. Moving in tractors the farmers have successfully blocked the national highway and link roads, with protests taking a grip over entire Punjab. As sources said, Badal’s resignation was the only option left before the Akali Dal as the BJP has refused to budge despite protests in states across India, with the SAD fast losing support of its traditional agrarian base.

Senior SAD leader and Rajya Sabha member Naresh Gujral who has often been outspoken about the crests and troughs in the BJP-Akali relationship told The Citizen that the party is in the process of seeking feedback from its cadres about the alliance. Whether to continue with or not and will take a decision on its support to the BJP based on this.

Gujral said, “The alliance came into being under former SAD Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a time when Punjab was recovering from intense militancy and the centuries old Hindu-Sikh relations had come under strain.The results of this reliance have been very satisfying as we were able to bring about peace and communal harmony in Punjab.”

He went on to add, “We continue to stay in the NDA without going out because we are the founders of the NDA. We are also a cadre based party and are now seeking a feedback from our cadres on the ground and the future course of action will depend on this feedback.”

Gujral pointed out that the SAD has been a party of farmers and its cadres along with its leaders have always been agriculturists.

Coming to the issue of the farmers protesting against the moves of the central government in the farm sector, the veteran Akali leader explained, “Unfortunately there is a communication gap and trust deficit where the government says that its moves are for the benefit of the farmers and the beneficiary is saying the opposite. It is a strange dichotomy. The only way out is through a dialogue. The bill can be sent to a select committee of the Parliament for being re-examined. The government can call the stakeholders, farmers’ organizations and explain. Thereafter changes can be introduced and it can fine tune the bill.”

Gujral claimed that the Akalis tried to act as a bridge with even senior Badal trying his best to avoid a confrontation between the centre and the farmers.

He said there have been occasions in the past where a bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and because of opposition in the Rajya Sabha it was sent to a select committee, there were parleys with the stakeholders, the revised bill was fine tuned and passed leaving everyone happy.

He further underlined, “We are at a stage where we are eyeball to eyeball with China. On the other side Pakistan is trying to foment trouble. The Akalis do not want to do anything to weaken the government or the country. We are a patriotic community.”

“One has to be mindful that we are two different parties in an alliance. Had we been having the same ideologies we would not have been separate parties. We are a secular party believing in the teachings of the Gurus while they are a Hindutva party. There have been occasions where we have disagreed on issues. But we have always worked for the interests of Punjab,” Gujral told this reporter.

Even political observers in Punjab feel that the alliance between the Akalis and the BJP is there to stay because it is a political compulsion where the Akalis benefit from the Hindu votes mainly in the urban pockets and the BJP benefits from the Sikh support base of the Akalis in the three parliamentary seats it contests out of 13 and 23 assembly seats out of 117 in Punjab.

It is also being stated that the Akalis need the BJP at this point of time because they have failed to revive after the 2017 assembly poll debacle when they were reduced to the third position lower than the rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

In addition to this they have been on the back foot in their traditional stronghold of Panthic or religious domain. They continue to face public anger on the issues of sacrilege of holy texts, the police firing on protestors in Bargari in 2015 and the ongoing protests regarding legal action against those found guilty in the Akal Takht probe that found 328 Birs (copies) of Guru Granth Sahib missing from the publication department of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

Coming back to the speculative turmoil that has been unleashed by her resignation, Harsimrat Badal in a statement stated that her decision was ‘guided by the iconic legacy of Sardar Parkash Singh Badal for fighting to defend national interests, be it against the Emergency or for the establishment of a federal structure in the country as well as preserving external security or food security’.

She has stated that she did not consider her step as any ‘sacrifice’ but just a natural and normal course for any proud Akali wedded to the Panthic values and to the cause of the farmers.”The real sacrifices are made by the farmers themselves. I am just standing by them as their daughter and sister,” she said.