New Delhi: Former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has written to President Ram Nath Kovind saying that he wishes to return his Padma Vibhushan award, to protest against the Centre’s new farm laws and in solidarity with farmers who are have been consistently protesting against them. Badal, now 92 years old, had received the country’s second-highest civilian honour in 2015.
Earlier, Badal’s party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, had pulled out of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance to protest against the farm laws.
“I write this letter to return the Padma 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 against the Farm Acts,” his letter says.
“When the Government of India had brought the Ordnances, assurances were given to us that the farmers’ apprehensions on these Ordinances would be addressed to their satisfaction when these would be converted into Bills and subsequently into Acts. Accordingly, I even appealed to the farmers to trust 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 into words the emotional stress which I have been going through since then. I have truly begun to wonder why has the Government become so heartless, so cynical and so ungrateful towards the farmers.”
Badal goes on to talk about how much India owes its farmers, and how they worked to turn India into a food-exporting country in a short amount of time when the need arose. “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.”
The former chief minister also talks about how poor farmers have already been struggling in India, even before the new laws, and yet governments are made fun of when they waive farm loans. “Isn’t it amazing and unjust that lakhs of crores of corporate loans are waived off with just a single thoughtless stroke of the government pen. But no one has ever thought of even subsidising the farm debts…,” he continues.
His Padma Vibhushan award, Badal says, was only possible because the people – largely farmers – had appreciated his commitment to them. “Accordingly, I have decided to return this honour of Padam Vibhushan in protest against the government’s betrayal of farmers on the three Acts against which the farmers of my state and country and agitating on the street in this cold winter.”
The former chief minister also brought up rumours and allegations, including by Bharatiya Janata Party, that the protesting farmers are ‘anti-national’ or ‘Khalistani’. “I am deeply pained 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 faces serious challenges from some other quarters.”
In addition to Badal, another Punjab leader, Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) chief and Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Dhindsa, has returned his Padma Bhushan award and said it is useless if the farm laws are enacted. He was given the award in January 2019.
“I have returned my Padma Bhushan in protest as farmers have been staging dharnas for the past two months but the Central government is not ready to listen to them. When the BJP government is ignoring our elderly people, who have shifted their protest to Delhi borders, the award is worthless to me,” Dhindsa told Hindustan Times.
Separately, in support of farmers’ agitation, Sahitya Akademi award winners from Punjab – renowned poet Mohanjit, story writer Jaswinder Singh and playwright Swaraj Bir Singh, who is also editor-in-chief of Punjabi Tribune – returned their awards.
Punjabi playwright Swaraj Bir Singh ex IPS, now editor of Punjabi Tribune, returns his Sahitya Akademi award in support of farmers. #AwardWapsi
— Yayathi Puru (@YayathiPuru) December 3, 2020
Farmers have been protesting at the outskirts of Delhi for seven days now, and talks with the Central government have failed so far. The government has not allowed the farmers to enter Delhi.
According to NDTV, a group of top sportspersons and coaches from Punjab have also said they will return their awards and march to Delhi on December 5.
Read the full text of Badal’s letter below.
Note: This article was updated to note that Sukhdev Dhindsa had also returned his award.