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Farmer loans, industrial sops
SAD-BJP puts Centre on notice
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 26
The SAD-BJP today gave a clarion call to the UPA government at the Centre to awake and address the needs of the farmers and the industry in Punjab, failing which there will be no recourse available to the state but to adopt a confrontationist attitude to ensure justice.

Expressing this common sentiment at the SAD-BJP “Insaaf Rally”, the biggest ever show of strength by a regional party in the Capital in recent times, the leadership of the two parties drew the attention of the UPA government to the plight of the industry and the debt-ridden farmers of Punjab, which once ushered in the Green Revolution. The message came with a clear warning to the Congress against “meddling with the internal affairs of the Sikhs”.

Almost every speaker in the rally drew the nation’s attention to farmer suicides and the exodus of industry from Punjab because of a lack of any support in terms of remunerative support price to the farmers and an equal playing field for the state’s industry. The industry in the states adjoining Punjab enjoys a 10-year period of tax sops.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal took over from where his son and president of the SAD Sukhbir Singh Badal had left. “We don’t take on anyone without thorough deliberations, but once we decide on something there is no going back. We are here in Delhi to awaken the Congress leadership at the Centre. We don’t want any pity or doles; this Insaaf Rally is to seeking justice”, he told thousands who had converged on the Ram Lila ground.

Badal was in no mood to relent. He told BJP national president Rajnath Singh, who was present at the rally, “I will request you to meet the Prime Minister and apprise him of the consequences if the Centre does not stop its injustice”. Earlier Sukhbir had spelt out the SAD-BJP demands from the Centre. “We sought a support price of Rs 1,500 for both wheat and paddy; the Centre gave us Rs 1,000. We will continue our fight to get what is rightfully ours. Else, we will look for ways to sell our produce internationally”.

The SAD chief further asked the UPA government to announce a complete loan waiver for the farmers if Punjab, sanction Rs 10,000 crore for augmenting the irrigation infrastructure and a package for the industry to make it competitive with establishments in neighbouring states.

Rajnath Singh suggested that the incidence of suicide in Punjab was growing because the self-respecting farmers were unable to bear humiliation. To improve the lot of the farmers, he suggested the implementation of an assured income scheme that would automatically cover crop insurance. He announced that if the BJP became a part of the next government at the Centre, he would pass a law prohibiting more than 4 per cent interest on borrowings by farmers.

The tone for the day was set earlier by Punjab’s cooperation minister Kanwaljit Singh, who issued a veiled threat to the Central government to accept the “justified demands of the state or be ready to face their next challenge where the SAD-BJP would launch a war for a change of the UPA government”. He said Punjab’s farmer had become a victim of Government of India’s vote politics, adopting a policy to retain the state as its food bowl, but at the same time denying remunerative prices to the farmers to keep prices of food suppressed.

Punjab’s leadership, including finance minister Manpreet Badal, industries minister Manoranjan Kalia, Akali leader Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Gurdev Badal, Maheshinder Singh Grewal, MPs Navjot Singh Sidhu, Sukhdev Dhindsa, Sharanjit Dhillon, Punjab BJP president Rajinder Bhandari, SGPC president Avtar Singh, pleaded the case of the farmers and the industry.



‘Gold medal’ for cadres
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Leaders at SAD-BJP’s Insaaf Rally in New Delhi
Leaders at SAD-BJP’s Insaaf Rally in New Delhi on Tuesday. — A Tribune photograph

New Delhi, February 26
The “Insaaf Rally”, organised by the SAD-BJP here, has proved to be a test of loyalty for the party leadership and their supporters. Vehicles packed with people reached here travelling hundreds of kilometres through the night to be in time for the rally. Many, who did not wish to miss the historic event, camped at the rally site all the night. Historic in many ways, the success of the rally has pushed SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal into a higher political orbit.

“I am touched by the gesture of the party cadres, who did not let me down in making this one of the biggest events to fight injustice in recent times”, a relaxed Sukhbir told The Tribune later in the evening. The rally has been more than satisfying for him because it was today that BJP national president Rajnath Singh not only congratulated and accepted Sukhbir as the leader of the SAD, but also gave him “ashirwad” to carry on the political struggle started by his father and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The announcement is significant, implying that the BJP, an alliance partner of the SAD is ready to accept Sukhbir as the next Chief Minister, whenever that happens.

It was a rare rally where equal prominence was given to Hindi, Punjabi and English with posters and banners in all three languages put up side by side. SAD general secretary Daljeet Cheema provided repeated comic relief between speeches thanking the Sikhs of Delhi for the elaborate arrangement of samosas and bread pakoras. Each time Sukhbir’s throat bothered him, Cheema would intervene with a zestful remark giving Sukhbir time to sip water.

Senior Badal too humoured the workers by giving them a “gold medal” for braving all odds and reaching the venue, while junior Badal’s wife Harsimrat remained besides Sukhbir till the end, even when he was on the stage, giving him moral support. It was quite a mix of slogans alternating between “Jai Sri Ram” by the BJP and “Bole so nihal” by the Akalis. Despite all bonhomie, none of the leaders could do without making a reference Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.

Despite the traffic snarls that prevented many from reaching the Ram Lila ground, the rally venue, in time, it is perhaps for the first time that Youth Akali Dal volunteers successfully managed the crowds in terms of seating, refreshments and ingress and egress from the venue. Many of those volunteers who could not make it to the venue, were seen strolling in Connaught Place later in the day.

Sukhbir, his brother-in-law Bikram Majitha, MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha and many others were seen making the rounds of the venue as late as 2 am. While L.K. Advani could not make it to the rally in view of the railway budget being presented in Parliament, Rajnath Singh represented the national BJP leadership. After the rally, the entire team of the SAD-BJP Cabinet and all MPs from Punjab met home minister Shivraj Patil at Parliament House and gave him a copy of the memorandum to be forwarded to the Prime Minister.

While many trying to leave early were dissuaded by being told that the entire G.T. Road had a traffic jam till Karnal, the most interesting observation came from an Akali leader after the rally was: “According to sources, Haryana di sharab and Delhi da shabab have gone out of stock due to the visiting workers”.

The SAD rally has been derailed by the Chak De budget of Lalu Prasad Yadav, so commented senior Congress leader Umrad Singh.



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