Parkash Singh Badal's show for farmers or politics? (Punjab Newsletter)
Chandigarh, Feb 20
Badal, 86, who personally supervised the arrangements in the run-up to the mega show, wanted to make it grander than the Progressive Punjab Investors' Summit organised by his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal last December. While Sukhbir's show saw the Who's Who of India Inc. come together on a single day, Badal's summit show was definitely not a patch.
The opening day saw the grand entry of three chief ministers - flying straight to the venue in their state helicopters. These were Akhilesh Yadav (Uttar Pradesh), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh).
The inaugural session, which saw a last-minute change of venue owing to heavy rainfall in the preceding two days, became a political ground for the leaders to address. As agriculture took a backseat, the politicians took the forefront. What followed were political speeches by these leaders, including Badal. Some ministers and politicians, who were representing their chief ministers and state governments, used the stage to detail their own political agenda.
One such leader from Bihar went to the extent of suggesting that Badal would be the ideal prime ministerial candidate of the proposed Third Front that is being talked about in the context of the upcoming general elections. Badal, whose Shiromani Akali Dal has a long-standing alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seemed amused at the suggestion. The Akali Dal is an important constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Agricultural experts, farm scientists and other leading names from the sector did not even get an opportunity to speak at the inaugural. The only exception was a well-to-do progressive farmer who flaunted his views. The attendance of farmers at the inaugural was also dismal.
Senior officers involved in the organization of the summit sheepishly defended the hijacking of the event by politicians, saying that the experts and others would speak during the technical sessions.
The farmers who came from other states too seemed lost owing to language issues. Some farmers even pointed out that they were using better methods and technology in their states than what was being showcased at the summit.
Punjab's main opposition Congress party was quick to take potshots at the summit, saying that several crores of rupees of public money was wasted on the summit, which ended up achieving nothing. They said that Punjab farmers hardly gained anything from the exercise.
Opposition leaders even claimed that holding the summit so close to the general elections - expected in April-May - was a clear move by Badal to influence voters in Punjab's agrarian community.
Badal, himself a wealthy and landed farmer, surely knows the tricks of the trade - agriculturally and politically. It is the farmers with small land holdings who cannot understand the politics of organizing such mega events. For such farmers, who toil hard in the fields, the only concern is getting a good crop and managing their families.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 20-02-2014)