Chandigarh: Expressing solidarity with the agitating farmers over the Centre’s farm laws, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patron Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday returned his Padma Vibhushan award in protest against “the betrayal of the farmers by the government”.
91-year-old Badal, in a missive to President Ram Nath Kovind, said he was returning the award due to “the shocking indifference and contempt with which the government was treating the ongoing peaceful and democratic agitation of the farmers against the three farm Acts”.
The Akali stalwart had received the country’s second-highest civilian honour in 2015.
The letter further says, “When the government of India had brought the ordinances, assurances were given that the farmers’ apprehensions on these legislations would be addressed to their satisfaction while bringing the relevant Bills and subsequently the Acts.
“Trusting these assurances, I even appealed to the farmers to believe the government’s word. But I was shocked when the government simply went back on its word.”
“That was the most painful and embarrassing moment in my long political career. I just cannot put in words the emotional stress which I have been going through since then. I have truly begun to wonder why has the government of the country become so heartless, so cynical and so ungrateful towards the farmers,” said the former Punjab Chief Minister Badal.
“While writing this letter to you, I am conscious that I address myself to a President who presides over the destiny of a population 70 per cent of whom are farmers. For over 70 years, these farmers have been serving the country as its ‘annadata’ with the most selfless and self effacing humility.
“I hardly need repeat that the country owes a huge and almost undue debt to them. When the country faced hunger and humiliation in the sixties, having to beg for food in world capitals, the government turned to the farmers to pull it out of starvation.
“The farmer responded so heartily that in a matter of three years, he turned the country from a food-begging to a food exporting country. The tide was turned principally by Punjab with Green Revolution.
But in the process, he sacrificed the only two natural assets he had: soil fertility and water,” he wrote.
“Today however, the same farmer finds himself forced to wage bitter struggles just to secure his fundamental right to live. The three Acts fell as bolts from the blue on the already beleaguered peasantry of the country.
“Now, the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of farmers crying out for justice in one voice in the national capital would have moved any other nation or its government.
“Tragically, no such sensitivity towards the farmers’ pain and anger is visible here. I am sure that as the first Citizen of our great country and a conscientious public figure, you would be fully aware and perhaps as deeply concerned about these developments as I have been.
“Even before these Acts were passed, the poor farmers had already been in the grip of sever crisis throughout the country. Agriculture was never a lucrative profession in our country as the costs of agricultural inputs had been rising steeply with while there has been just meager hike or no hike on the prices of agricultural produce,” said Badal, who himself is a farmer.
“But in recent years, the crisis deepened with farmers unable to meet the rising costs of inputs and were driven to draw unbearable loans just to be able to keep feeding their families.
“When farm friendly parties like the Shiromani Akali Dal pleaded for debt relief to farmers in overall national interest, they were mocked. It was cynically suggested that farmers take loans just for ostentatious lifestyle.
“This cruel cynicism and malice against the farmers did not stop even when thousands of farmers in this country were and are being driven to take their own lives in a phenomenon called farmer suicides.
“Isn’t it amazing and unjust that lakhs of crores of corporate loans are waived off with just a single thoughtless stroke of the governmental pen. But no one has ever thought of even subsiding the farm debts, forget a complete waiver. Instead, the country chose to let its ‘annadata’ die.”
Against this background, Badal said, the ‘black’ laws now implemented by the government have come as the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the country’s ‘annadata’.
“The farmers are out on the streets battling police batons, tear gas shells and water cannons even as their sources of livelihood dry up. They have come to the national capital from all over the country, leaving their fields, crops and even their families and traveled long distances — thousands of kilometres in some cases — to get the attention of their own government.
“They have shown incredible and unprecedented restraint, maturity and responsibility in keeping their protests totally peaceful and democratic. But conspiracies and vicious propaganda are unleashed to paint this peaceful struggle as anti-national.”