The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Akalis line up farmer front

Chandigarh Oct. 18: Shiromani Akali Dal general secretary Sukhbir Singh Badal said today he was forming a front of parliamentarians with peasant backgrounds to safeguard farmers against decisions like withdrawal of free power to the farm sector by chief minister Amarinder Singh, reports our correspondent.

“You will soon see MPs of the peasant community from all over the country pooling their resources for the farmers’ cause. Obviously, given the philosophy of the Congress, this would have to be a non-Congress initiative,” the former Union minister said.

Sukhbir, who is also a Rajya Sabha member, said Amarinder’s decision to burden farmers with electricity bills revealed a total absence of political commitment, economic good sense, social vision and religious integrity.

He wondered how could reversing a decision that resulted in an increase of Rs 15,000 crore by way of additional income to the people of the state at the annual expense of just Rs 250 crore government investment be justified through economic rationale. He ridiculed the chief minister’s claim that the decision had to be taken because of the recommendations of the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission.

“It is clear that neither the chief minister nor his colleagues or officers and advisers had read the clause in the commission’s constitution which gave the government absolute powers and freedom to provide any subsidies to any section on the grounds of socio-economic requirement. If the decision was forced on the government, then why is he and his ministers issuing statements justifying and even glorifying the decision'” he said.

Sukhbir also recalled several articles written by Amarinder hailing the WTO, which opposed free power to farm sectors. “The chief minister had always opposed our pro-farmer decision and there is evidence of it in the media write-ups and reports,” he said.

The MP was shocked over the disappearance of Rs 3,000 crore collected by the government through new taxes. “The government is constantly stating that it was not undertaking any new development work nor was it even carrying out maintenance of the projects already in place. The roads are in bad shape and every section of society is being denied even due remuneration. Why cannot they take out Rs 250-300 crore from the new taxes to subsidise the farm sector with free power'” he asked.

The MP wondered how the chief minister broke a sacred oath taken in presence of the holy Guru Granth Sahib. “If Amarinder had any sense of political dignity or honour and religious commitment, he should quit rather than betray a promise made by him to the farmers in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib at his Patiala residence in March. We do not understand why he made that pledge if he only had to break it even before the year was out.”

However, Sukhbir recalled that the same Amarinder had earlier pledged himself to the separatist Amritsar Declaration at the highest religio-temporal seat of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht, only to go back on it within months.

He also referred to the promise of free power to farmers contained in the Congress manifesto. He added that not only was the chief minister going back on all his promises, each one of his decisions so far had gone in the opposite direction. “But this betrayal of the poor and the beleaguered farmers is the cruelest cut of them all. The chief minister had himself been enacting what now turns out to be a nautanki in front of the Prime Minister’s residence on the poor state of the Punjab farmers a few days ago. He even went through the motions of calling a special session on the issue in which the Shiromani Akali Dal demanded a clear commitment from him on continuing free power to the farm sector,” he said.

Sukhbir wondered how all the Congress legislators supported the decision to withdraw free power, abolish octroi, deny enhanced free power to Dalits and freeze allowances of employees. “Is the government really being run by elected representatives of the people who have to go back to the masses for accountability or just by a caucus comprising low-level middlemen and power-brokers who pride themselves on their notoriety'” he asked.

Sukhbir declared that the Shiromani Akali Dal would not take the anti-farmer decisions lying down and, as the principle Opposition party, would fulfil its moral and political obligation towards the farmers and other segments in Punjab. He said the outlines of the party’s response to the government’s anti-people and anti-farmer policies would be detailed out at the political affairs committee meeting tomorrow.

“One thing is certain. Our vibrant democratic response would be forceful enough to bring the government to its knees,” he said.

On the anti-corruption drive of the chief minister, Sukhbir said: “That was a mere sham and a ploy to emasculate, weaken and paralyse the democratic opposition so that the government could freely go ahead with its wanton anti-farmer, anti-employee, anti-trader and anti-Punjab policies. They (Congress leaders) must have constructed a fool’s paradise around them to be able to believe that they could succeed in stifling the voice of the elected representatives of the people.”

He added that the sham was exposed now and the chief minister would soon rue his contribution to injecting bitterness and confrontation into the polity of the state.

“They have sown a poisonous seed in Punjab and must now prepare to reap its bitter harvest. The day of reckoning is fast approaching,” he warned.

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