Different factions and versions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) may be divided over their political preference for the February 4 assembly elections, but they have one common issue — procurement of crops.
Three weeks after poll results on March 11, wheat is expected in mandis, and the new government’s first priority will be smooth procurement. A bumper crop of 165 lakh tonnes is expected as compared to previous season’s 161 lakh.
The unions’ worry is valid when about 10 lakh families are engaged in agriculture, and, since 2014, raising the Centre’s grant for procurement was tough for the Akali-BJP government. The Centre, where too the Akalis are partners of the BJP, insisted on settling dues of about Rs 25,000 crore of previous credit limit. The state requires about Rs 60,000 crore to fund procurement.
Bhupinder Singh Mann, a former Rajya Sabha MP who heads BKU (Mann), says the performance of the new regime could be judged from the manner of procurement. “I am worried, because seeking funds and carrying out procurement is a very peculiar matter. If not handled properly, it could lead to a disaster.” According to Mann, who has a dwindling support base, state Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh is “most dependable” for farmers.
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, who heads BKU (Lakhowal) that is known as an Akali supporter, called CM Parkash Singh Badal “the champion of the farmers’ rights”. “I think even in adverse conditions he (Badal) would not let wheat and paddy remain unattended,” he said.
Lakhowal was chairman of the Punjab Mandi Board for 10 years during the Akali-BJP regime. Many of his faction’s district unit heads have separated from him before the polls, as Lakhowal refused to side with any party other than the Akali-BJP coalition.
BKU (Rajewal) led by Balbir Singh Rajewal is supporting the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). “Procurement gives assured income after six months of hard work, but things are getting tougher as the Centre is not releasing funds easily,” he said.
Rajewal once supported the Akali-BJP coalition and was even expected to contest on the Akali ticket, but now claims to have suggested a roadmap to the AAP. “The Centre is tightening its noose around Punjab. We need to first get 10 lakh acres vacated from wheat and paddy and offer Rs 4,000 per acre compensation to set things right.”
His roadmap is: “Motivate farmers to grow pulses and oilseeds. Give indigenous pulses to the people in our different schemes, and help farmers sell oil.” This, he says, will change the landscape of agriculture in Punjab and the “Centre will run after us to buy wheat and paddy on our terms”. He suggests that in case the Centre refuses to give funds for procurement, the state government can also raise money from the financial institutions.