Punjab’s senior most politician, and once Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally, Parkash Singh Badal, has made it known that his party the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has no love lost for their former friends. The farmers are at the moment their true allies and constituents, and the public announcement that he will return his Padma Vibhushan, is as big a move as walking out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the farmers’ protest. Badal, said he was registering his protest against the government’s “betrayal of farmers”.
The Padma Vibhushan is the second-highest civilian award in India, the Bharat Ratna being the highest. Since January 1954, the award has been given to eminent citizens from all walks of life for their “exceptional and distinguished service”, to the nation.
Now the 92-year-old former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal may have just started yet another protest return of this and other awards bestowed on Indians who have earned global fame for the nation by excelling in their professional services and social work. Badal was awarded this honour in 2015, told the media that returning it was his way of registering his protest against the Central government’s “betrayal of farmers”, adding “I am who I am because of the people, especially the common farmer. Today when he has lost more than his honour, I see no point in holding on to the Padma Vibhushan honour,” the Shiromani Akali Dal leader said.
The nearly four months old Farmers Protest, which reached the National Capital over a week ago has got massive support from civil society, workers unions, transporters union, secular human rights organisations, women’s rights groups, transport unions, teachers unions, secular politicians, top actors, singers and sports persons from across the country and abroad.
According to news reports now sports persons are also planning to return their many awards in solidarity with the farmers. Award winning wrestler Kartar Singh told NDTV that around “50 players from Punjab will be returning their awards,” and they have requested the President for a meeting.
The leading sportspersons and coaches from Punjab have said they will return their awards, and march to Delhi on December 5 in solidarity with the farmers, stated the news reports. Among them are Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee wrestler Kartar Singh, Arjuna awardee Sajjan Singh Cheema and Arjuna awardee hockey player Rajbir Kaur. They say the farmers had been “holding peaceful agitation for several months. But water cannons and teargas shells were used against them.” The Arjuna awardees Kartar Singh, Sajjan Cheema and other prominent sports personalities said they will head to Delhi on December 5 and place their awards outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan, reported The Print.
They added, “We are the children of farmers and they have been holding peaceful agitation for the last several months. Not even a single incident of violence took place. But water cannons and teargas shells were used against them when they were going to Delhi. If turbans of our elders and brothers are tossed, then what will we do with our awards and honour? We are in support of our farmers. We do not want such awards and that is why we are returning the same.” Singh said they are also trying to contact former players in Haryana for coming out in support of farmers’ agitation.
This is yet another example of how the protests are now growing with solidarity pouring in from across the nation by the day. The eminent citizens returning their national awards will be noticed across the globe, even if the Government does not react to it.
It may be recalled that it was months ago that there was a massive gathering of farmers protesting outside the residence of former Punjab Chief Minister Badal, at Badal village in Muktsar district. After that his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal sent her letter of resignation as Union Minister of Food Processing Industries. She remains a Member of Parliament, but this resignation was a big another public signal that the party will side with the farmers and not the BJP.
The SAD made it clear then itself that the party will respond to the mood in Punjab, and will oppose the legislation that the BJP says will “liberalise agricultural markets,” this rift between the two traditional allies exposed BJP’s proposed “reforms in the farm sector” as being anti-farmer. “We have repeatedly asked the government to please address the apprehensions of farmers, but the government has done nothing. Therefore, I oppose these bills,” Sukhbir Singh Badal, an MP from Ferozpur, had said in Lok Sabha during the debate on the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, which replace similar ordinances, the HT had reported.