Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhdev Dhindsa return Padma awards in protest against farm laws

Most painful and embarrassing moment in my long political career: Prakash Singh Badal,

Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, December 3

Former Union Minister and five-time Chief Minister of Punjab Parkash Badal on Thursday returned the Padam Vibhushan award in protest against "the betrayal of the farmers by the Government of India."

In a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, Badal 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".

Incidentally, SAD (Democratic) chief and rebel Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has also announced that he would be returning his Padma Bhushan award.

Dhindsa was presented the Padma Bhushan—third highest civilian award —by President Kovind last year for his contribution in the field of public affairs.

Welcoming the decision of the Akali stalwart, Congress leader Sunil Jakhar said it was the outcome of the growing public pressure and mass movement against the farm bills.

“The BJP leadership should be gracious enough to respect the larger sentiments and call up the Akali stalwart to find a way forward in solving the farmers' agitation”.

He also welcomed the announcement by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa to return the Padma Bhushan.

The full text of Parkash Singh Badal's letter:

Honourable Rashtarpati ji,

I write this letter to return the Padam Vibhushan award in protest against the betrayal of the farmers by the Government of India and against the shocking indifference and contempt with which the Govt is treating the ongoing peaceful and democratic agitation of the farmers against the Farm Acts.

When the Government of India had brought the Ordnances, assurances were given that the farmers’ apprehensions on these Ordinances 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.

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% 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 irrepayable 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.

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. 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, the Black Laws now implemented by the Govt 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 travelled long distances – thousands of kilometers 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.

Throughout my life, I have been engaged in a long and often painful struggles at the head of my party Shiromani Akali Dal seeking greater autonomy to states under a genuinely federal structure in the country as I believed that the states should have the resources to look after their people – in Punjab’s case, predominantly the farmers. During the course of these struggles I have spent long years in jails – probably the longest ever by any political figure in free India.

All this while, farmers and the Panthic ideal of Sarbat da Bhala , which every farmer lives by, have defined my life, both personal and public. Farmers have been almost a second religious passion for me.

Everything I have, everything I take pride in every moment of glory or every office of public service that has been bestowed on me during my long public life has been purely because of my commitment to these ideals in which farmers have remained at the center of everything.

Thus, when the country honoured me with the enviable honour of Padam Vibhushan, I knew that it was only in acknowledgement of my commitment to the people of Punjab in which the farmers featured most prominently. I owe it to them.

But today, when even the survival of the farmers - because of whom I am who I am - has lost more than his honour, I see no point in holding on to the Padma Vibhushan honour.

Accordingly, I have decided to return this honour in protest against the government’s betrayal of the farmers on the three Acts in question.The farmers of my state and country are out on the streets agitating against these Acts in this cold winter far away from their homes.

And I feel so poor that at this stage of my life, I do not have much else to sacrifice to express solidarity with the farmers’ cause.

As one who has spent close to a century amidst the people, especially the farmers of my country, I would request you still to use your good offices with the government and get it to listen to the farmers with love, compassion, understanding and , above all, with respect that they fully deserve. The Acts should be withdrawn or annulled and farmers others demands be seriously discussed with them.

This is perhaps the hour for the country to repay the debt it owes to its farmers.

I am deeply pained also by the communal insinuations being thrown at the peacefully and democratically protesting farmers. I can assure you that they have secular ethos running in their blood and are the best guarantee for safeguarding the country’s secular, democratic values and character which face serious challenges from some other quarters.

As an optimist, I like to hope that you will win the confidence of these farmers as well as strengthen the secular democratic fabric of our great country.

Thanks and high regards

Yours sincerely,

(PARKASH SINGH BADAL)

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