He said that 60 per cent of Punjab’s population works in the farming sector, hence farmers are in majority in the state.

Chandigarh: The furore among farmer organisations in Punjab over the Modi government’s three new farm laws has brought former state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu back into public life after a year of radio silence.   

Navjot Singh Sidhu wearing a hat© Provided by The Print

Since his resignation from the Punjab cabinet last June following differences with Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, the Amritsar East MLA has even stayed away from assembly sessions — there have been four in the intervening months, including a single-day session in August. All through, he was believed to be holed up at his Amritsar home.

In pics: Farmers hold nationwide protest (Slideshow by The Indian Express)

a group of people in front of a crowd: Farmers' organisations are holding a nationwide demonstration on Friday against the three contentious farm legislations that were passed by Parliament earlier this week. In pic: Farmers block the Lehragaga-Sangrur highway in Punjab.

He emerged from the shadows on 18 September, weighing in on the resentment among farmers with a Urdu couplet, and following it up by a message of support in Punjabi and Hindi. 

Sarkarein tamam umr yahi bhool karti rahi

dhool unke chahre par thi, aayina saaf karti rahi.

Governments keep making the same mistake, 

They have dust on their face, and they clean the mirror.”

सरकारें तमाम उम्र यही भूल करती रही,

धूल उनके चेहरे पर थी, आईना साफ करती रही, 1/2

— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 18, 2020

ਕਿਸਾਨੀ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੀ ਰੂਹ,

ਸਰੀਰ ਦੇ ਘਾਓ ਭਰ ਜਾਂਦੇ ਹਨ,

ਪਰ ਆਤਮਾ ‘ਤੇ ਵਾਰ,

ਸਾਡੇ ਅਸਤਿਤਵ ਉੱਤੇ ਹਮਲਾ ਬਰਦਾਸ਼ਤ ਨਹੀਂ।

ਜੰਗ ਦੀ ਤੂਤੀ ਬੋਲਦੀ ਹੈ – ਇੰਕਲਾਬ ਜ਼ਿੰਦਾਬਾਦ,

ਪੰਜਾਬ, ਪੰਜਾਬੀਅਤ ਤੇ ਹਰ ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਕਿਸਾਨਾਂ ਦੇ ਨਾਲ।

2/2 pic.twitter.com/7QPDmFbEC0

— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 18, 2020

On 22 September, in another tweet, the former MP rued the passage of the farm laws by Parliament. 

“Awaaz-e-kisan – Jinhe hum haar samjhe the gala apna sajane ko, wahi ab naag ban baithe hamare kaat khane ko (the voice of farmers – those we held close as an asset are now a deadly snake waiting to harm us),” he tweeted.

आवाज़-ए-किसान :-

जिन्हें हम हार समझे थे गला अपना सजाने को, वही अब नाग बन बैठे हमारे काट खाने को।

— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 22, 2020

काले बिल पास, पूंजीपतियों की कमाई का रास्ता साफ।

किसान की राह में कांटे, पूंजीपतियों की राह में फ़ूल।

भारी पड़ेगी भूल…

— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 22, 2020

CONGRESS MLA and former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday urged Punjab’s farmers to unite and make their voices heard in the Vidhan Sabha by contesting elections.

He said that 60 per cent of Punjab’s population works in the farming sector, hence farmers are in majority in the state.

“If you are in majority, why don’t you all unite together and contest elections so as to send your representatives to Vidhan Sabha? If your voice is in Vidhan Sabha, they will speak for you. Realise your strength and don’t let political parties exploit you.”

The MLA said this at Mannawala in Sangrur district, his native village where he had spent his childhood years.

Speaking on the farm Bills issue, he said, “I will go to other villages of Punjab as well, but I have started from my native village as I am sure that my message from this village will reach all 12,000 villages of Punjab.”

Sidhu was welcomed by villagers and Monday’s programme was dedicated to freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as Sidhu said, “This fight is not for our crops, land but for our ‘pagg’. We all need to remember Bhagat Singh’s words on his birthday — ‘Pagri sambhal jatta pagri sambhal ve, hakumatan na tera lutt liya mal ve’.”

Slogans like ‘Punjab’s future CM Navjot Sidhu Zindabaad’ were heard as Sidhu, who had resigned as local bodies minister long and had never taken charge as power minister of Punjab — spoke.

Accusing the Centre of following a ‘use and throw’ policy for Punjab, he said, “We never needed the Green Revolution, the country needed it. So 2 per cent of the country’s population has fed 60% of it. And now they want to snatch our identity from us. We will not let that happen. Remember, ‘sher chaliya karde khuddar chaliya karde, sir uchha karke Punjabi sardar chaliya karde (lions walk, people with dignity walk…the Punjabi sardar walks with his head held high).”

Targeting the Electricity Bill, he said, “Now the entire control of Electricity Bill will go to Centre and they will ask state to give subsidy of free power directly to farmers in their bank accounts . However, from where will the state — which is debt-ridden — be able to give this subsidy to you? Hence, power subsidy will come in danger. But I have a plan as to how the government can raise this fund for power subsidy and come out of debt. First target the liquor mafia, next the sand mafia and further transport mafia of Sukha gappi (Sukhbir Singh Badal), what to talk of Rs 10,000 crore a year, the state will be able to collect over Rs 25,000 crore a year if all these mafias are controlled. I gave these suggestions two years ago as well as I am very clear and my politics is for giving solutions and doing welfare of people.”

He further said, “A leader is not meant for doing only press conferences, meeting Governor or President…Leaders are not the ones who show you their backs when you need them or make hollow promises. Punjabis want to unite people but Centre has an agenda to divide and rule. They want to implement the failed schemes of Europe and USA in our country. This central government is not run by mantris but by corporate companies. They will have different rates of crop for poor and rich farmers…Farming is our strength, our Punjabi farmers are teaching farming practices to the world while living in other countries. How dare these Amabani Adani determine rate of our crop. As Amul has made a cooperative model.. why can’t you all make cooperatives and do combined agriculture? Hence, you will determine rate of your crop. If Punjab government can have a cooperative of milk in the state (Milkfed) why can’t they have a cooperative for crops?”

Sidhu spoke about the need for storage houses. “Uncovered storage houses need to be covered. Hence, we will be able to produce all those things which we are eating as pulses are being imported and even many other things as well.”

He further said, “In the last 40 years, the income of a private employee increased by 200 per cent, it was 400 per cent for a government employee, Amabanis, Adanis — it was a 1000 per cent increase but farmers’ MSP was raised only 15 per cent. When the entire state was in lockdown, it was Punjab and Haryana who had fed 82 crore poor of our country through public distribution system of food grain and now they want our basic structure of farming to vanish. We will not let it happen and will fight for ourselves as Bhagat Singh had rightly said “zindagi apne dam pe je jati hai auron ke kandho pe tau janaja uthta hai”.”

Sidhu also said, “I am Guru Nanak’s follower. The one who taught us how to use plough in fields…you all know that what all allegations had been leveled on me when Kartarpur Sahib project was launched. But the one with who is Nanak…no one can cause any damage to that person.”

He added, “Farmers are given lecture of diversification but why does farmer prefer wheat and paddy? Because they have MSP. The other crops have no MSP.”

The same day, he released a 15-minute video message on YouTube, where he criticised the farm Acts and sought a common minimum programme to take up farmer issues.

All political parties in the state, he said, should unitedly protest against the legislations and ensure they are not implemented in Punjab. 

Navjot Singh Sidhu Live on Farmer Bills https://t.co/DZjg1Q3a5a

— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 22, 2020

On 23 September, Sidhu joined farmer organisations at a protest rally in Amritsar. 

On Monday, the birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, as Chief Minister Amarinder launched a farmers protest campaign from the freedom fighter’s village Khatkhar Kalan, Sidhu addressed farmers at his own ancestral village, Manwala, in Jalandhar. 

The rally was well attended and Sidhu spoke for over 35 minutes, unaccompanied by any party colleague from the Congress. He asked farmers to elect farmers as MLAs so that their voice is heard. Farmers, he said, should unite under the slogan of “Punjab ektakisan ekta (united Punjab, united farmers)” to oppose the farm Acts.

“When the country was dying of starvation, our farmers produced crops, but now when it has sufficient food, the Centre has passed black Acts to end the MSP,” he said.

An uncomfortable relationship

Sidhu had handed over his resignation to then Congress president Rahul Gandhi on 10 June last year, making it public a month later. The decision was reportedly driven by Sidhu’s resentment at having been stripped of the local bodies portfolio and handed electricity, after the parliamentary polls last year. The chief minister had laid the blame of the Congress’ “poor performance” in Punjab’s urban seats at Sidhu’s door. 

Sidhu had earlier blamed Amarinder after his wife was denied a Lok Sabha ticket from Chandigarh.

The CM and Sidhu have always shared an uncomfortable relationship and the differences between the two worsened when Sidhu was invited by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, a colleague from their cricketing days, for his oath-taking ceremony. 

The Chief Minister was against Sidhu going to Pakistan and asked him to reconsider his decision. Sidhu, however, not only went to Pakistan but also hugged the country’s army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa when the latter talked about Islamabad’s intention of opening the Kartarpur Sahib corridor for Sikh pilgrims.