Why Akali Dal Quit Modi Ministry Over Farm Bills

Less than 18 months to go for Punjab Assembly elections, the resignation of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Union Cabinet over Centre’s triple farm Ordinances was a political imperative. It was time for the party to choose a side. Badal was its lone minister in the Cabinet. The party, the oldest ally of the BJP, has said it will review its ties and whether it will continue to be a part of the NDA.

The three Ordinances — the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 – have triggered widespread protests by the farmers across Punjab and Haryana, amid the fear that they will no longer get paid at the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

SAD could not afford to be on the wrong side of the farmers’ protest with the peasantry forming the backbone of the party’s vote-bank in Punjab. SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal, earlier this week, summed up the party’s stand, saying – “Every Akali is a farmer, and every farmer is an Akali.” In this scenario, SAD had no choice but to be on the wrong side of Centre’s Ordinances, especially since the party’s state unit has been supporting the farmers’ protest.

SAD, the dominant ally in the state, had its worst showing in the 2017 Assembly elections, winning only 15 of the 94 seats it contested. As BJP won only three of the 23 it contested, the SAD-BJP alliance could secure only 15 per cent seats.

Its alliance with the BJP at the Centre was becoming increasingly untenable as the SAD found itself at variance with the saffron party’s stand several times in the recent past. The Akalis, in January, had supported a resolution in the Punjab Assembly against the Citizenship Amendment Act after voting for it in Parliament. Later, SAD decided against contesting Delhi Assembly elections over its differences with the BJP. Most recently, SAD President Sukhbir Badal, in Parliament earlier this week, had objected to non-inclusion of Punjabi in the new languages Bill for the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.