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Sharp divisions emerge among protesting farmer organisations

The ongoing ‘rail roko’ agitation in Punjab has once again brought to the surface sharp divisions among the organisations that claim to be the custodians of farmers’ interests.

punjab Updated: Oct 09, 2015 09:49 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times
farmer organisations,divisions,rail roko
Punjab farmers have decided to extend their rail blockade till October 10.(Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

The ongoing ‘rail roko’ agitation in Punjab has once again brought to the surface sharp divisions among the organisations that claim to be the custodians of farmers’ interests.

The current stir is being spearheaded by a conglomerate of eight farmer organisations—including the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) (Ugrahan) — and farm labourers’ bodies that are aligned to radical Left wings. BKU-Ugrahan is headed by Joginder Singh Ugrahan.

However, two other key factions of the BKU—headed by Balbir Singh Rajewal and Ajmer Singh Lakhowal—are supporting the government, claiming that no party can serve farmers like Akalis. BKU-Rajewal has went a step ahead saying that agitations such as ‘rail roko’ don’t serve any purpose. The wing headed by Lakhowal, who is considered very close to the Akalis, has also been backing the government during the recent agitations.

With the formation of the BKU in 1972, prominent farmer leaders came on a common platform. However, in all these years, their interests and political affiliations underwent a sea change. When the BKU came into existence, it had Pishora Singh Sidhupur, Bhupinder Singh Mann, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal and Balbir Singh Rajewal as prominent leaders. The BKU movements were at their pinnacle in the mid-1980s. However, slowly the leaders started getting inclined towards political parties.

As a result, the umbrella body started splitting and in the due course 22 factions came into existence. Mann became a Rajya Sabha member in the early 1990s. While Lakhowal became the chairman of the Punjab Mandi Board in 2008, Rajewal, who remained close to Captain Amarinder Singh, recently moved closer to the SAD and is said to have been working actively in the Samrala constituency.

“Their (farmers) demands are simply unjustified and exorbitant. No other government can give compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre to farmers,” claimed Rajewal. Reacting to it, Sukhdev Singh Kokri of BKU- Ugrahan said some kisan leaders (Rajewal and Lakhowal) are working for their selfish interests and hardly doing any good to farmers.

“The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 643 crore for whitefly-hit farmers, while the neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan, where damage to the cotton crop is much more, are still to make any such announcement,” added Rajewal.

Rajewal’s statements defending the government and targeting the rival faction clearly point to the SAD government’s plan to take the steam out of farmers’ stir that has thrown the rail traffic in the state off track.

With protesting farmers extending their‘rail roko’ agitation by two more days, the SAD-BJP government is treading very cautiously in the entire matter. The SAD, known as part of peasants, can’t afford use of force against the agitators, as parties are gearing up for the 2107 assembly polls. However, it can’t prolong the agitation too as it is causing harassment to commuters.

Reportedly, two top officials of the state government–financial commissioner cooperation SK Sandhu, who is also principal secretary to CM Parkash Singh Badal, and ADGP intelligence Hardeep Singh Dhillon — were holding parleys with farmer organisations.