Will farmers take political plunge before Punjab polls? Unions to decide soon

Farmer leader Harinder Singh Lakhowal said the decision on political alignments should be unanimous, though his father Ajmer Singh Lakhowal is close to the Akali Dal.
Indian farmers eat sweets as they celebrate while leaving the protest site in Singhu, on the outskirts of New Delhi. (Photo | AP)
Indian farmers eat sweets as they celebrate while leaving the protest site in Singhu, on the outskirts of New Delhi. (Photo | AP)

CHANDIGARH:  Following their year-long agitation against farm laws and with Punjab Assembly elections on the horizon, farmer unions will soon be deciding on whether or not to form a political front and which parties to support.

The decision might be taken at a meeting of Punjab Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) leaders on Thursday, though representatives of seven of the 32 unions in the state have reportedly not been invited. Sources said some union leaders are in favour of taking the political plunge, but others are against it.

“We are against entering mainstream politics,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan), the largest farmer union in Punjab.

“The unions had earlier decided to stay away from politics until the farm laws were repealed. Now that it has been done, some leaders want to join politics. It is not our mandate, so we decided to part ways with the others.”

Harinder Singh Lakhowal, general secretary of BKU (Lakhowal), said the decision on political alignments should be unanimous, though his father, the outfit’s chief Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, is close to the SAD. 

“Whether to join politics or not will be a joint decision of all farmer unions,” said BKU (Rajewal group) president Balbir Singh Rajewal. AAP reportedly offered him a key position in the government if the party comes to power in the state, but he denied having got any such offer. BKU (Qadian) is expected to go with Rajewal, who in the past has supported the SAD and the Congress. 

After an iconic fight with the Centre that resulted in the withdrawal of contentious farm laws, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and his supporters on Wednesday left for their homes from Ghazipur on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border that had become their residence for 383 days.

The 'ghar wapsi' was marked with celebratory atmosphere at Ghazipur border, where protestors, chiefly members and supporters of the Tikait family-led Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), danced to patriotic and regional tunes hailing the farming community.

A 'havan' was also performed in the morning at the UP Gate, under the Delhi-Meerut Expressway, for the well-being of the farmers, even as all temporary settlements that had come up on the site over the past year were being uninstalled and loaded onto tractor-trollies.

Tikait, the national spokesperson of BKU, shared on social media pictures and videos of the reception his convoy got as they left Ghazipur to reach Sisauli village in western UP's Muzaffarnagar district.

"Thirteen months of struggle on the streets and returning home today. Heartfelt thanks to the citizens of the country," tweeted Tikait, a prominent face of the farmers' fight for repeal of the three contentious farm laws that had triggered the protests on Delhi's borders last year.

Whenever prodded about ending the protest over the past one year, Tikait, the younger brother of BKU president Naresh Tikait, often responded, "Bill wapsi se ghar wapsi hogi".

After continued protests at Delhi's border points of Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last month announced that the three laws would be repealed.

BKU spokesperson Dharmendra Malik said Tikait would be visiting Soram, the headquarters of the sarv-khap, in Muzaffarnagar before returning home in Sisauli.

While the farmers returning from protests got a hero's welcome on their way, Sisauli, the native village of the Tikait family and BKU's headquarters, also got decked up overnight for their reception.

"Sweets in large quantities have been prepared and the village decorated with flowers. The 'kisan bhawan' in Sisauli looks no less than a wedding bride," Malik said.

The BKU, an influential farmers' union, is a part of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) which spearheaded the protests against the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

(With PTI Inputs)

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