On the eve of the high-decibel parliamentary elections, five-time Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Sunday sounded the poll bugle by bringing his counterparts in the opposition-ruled states together for "protecting interests of farmers" through the first-ever Punjab Agriculture Summit.
Though the Akali patriarch dubbed the summit as a "non-political" event claiming that it was being held to highlight the plight of farmers for which the invites were sent to all chief ministers, it was only attended by heads of non-Congress states - UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh and Shivraj Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Gujarat CM Narendra Modi were represented by their respective agriculture ministers while Rajasthan CM Vasundhra Raje had sent state BJP president Ashok Parnami.
Comparing Badal to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chouhan said in Madhya Pradesh, the Punjab chief minister commanded equal respect as the former prime minister.
Hinting at a possible new political alignment, Bihar agriculture minister Narendra Singh hailed Badal as the "son of farmer" who should prepare for a bigger role. "You have served Punjab for long. Now you should prepare to unfurl the national flag at Red Fort in Delhi," Narendra Singh said, while proposing Badal as the alternative not just to BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi but also Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
While heaping praise on Badal and their own governments, BJP chief ministers Raman Singh and Shivraj Chouhan blamed the UPA government for the "poor plight" of farmers. Former Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu, whose Telugu Desam Party is an NDA ally, too, lauded Badal's efforts and underlined the need to make farming profitable.
Raman Singh said under Badal's leadership, leaders from Punjab to Chhattisgarh and from Madhya Pradesh to Andhra Pradesh were willing to work together for the prosperity of farmers.
"I came to Punjab on Badal's invite despite the state assembly being in session as his wish is my command," Raman Singh added. Proposing hometstays for 1,000 Chhattisgarh and Punjab farmers every year under a knowledge-exchange programme, he recounted his government's initiatives to usher a 10-fold increase in Chhattisgarh's paddy production.
Cheered by a huge contingent of farmers from Madhya Pradesh, Chouhan took on the Congress regime at the Centre for "betraying" farmers by importing foodgrains to push down prices and offering low minimum support price (MSP) despite spiralling prices of fertilisers and other farm inputs.
"We need to unite for the welfare of farmers. For compensation and crop insurance, an individual farmer should be considered an independent unit and not the tehsil. We give farmers loans without interest and they are part of policy-making. We have decided to send farmers, not officers or ministers, for studying agriculture practices and technology in foreign countries," Chouhan said.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav took a dig at both the Congress and BJP saying all political parties only think of industrialists. "No one talks about farmers. But no country can prosper without the prosperity of its farmers. Be it the freedom struggle or Green Revolution, Punjab has always led the nation and under a seasoned leader like Badal it will continue to do so," he said.
All politics, agri experts get no time to speak
With politics hijacking the event meant for farmers, none of the eminent agriculture experts got time to speak. Financial commissioner development (FCD) Suresh Kumar offered them a meek apology for running out of time.
To undo the damage, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal honoured experts sitting on dais with a shawl and a memento before he delivered his speech. Later, the CM's office issued a statement saying eminent scientists Gurdev Singh Khush, Punjab State Farmers' Commission chairman GS Kalkat, Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) director general S Ayyappan and others will be honoured by the CM on the second day of the Progressive Punjab Agriculture Summit at the Baba Banda Singh Bahadur War Memorial, Chappar Chiri. Badal would also attend the technical session of S Ayyappan, it added.
Former union minister Sompal Shastri, an eminent agriculture expert, the only one who got a chance to speak, too, praised Badal lavishly giving the problems of farmers, the main focus of the summit, a miss. Farmers also had to suffer harassment owing to the last-minute change of the venue and timings of the event.