Shiromani Akali Dal president, Sukhbir Badal, until recently a close ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party has suddenly discovered his erstwhile ally of 23 years to be communally divisive and polarising. Calling the BJP the real “tukde tukde gang”, he tweeted on Tuesday, “BJP…has smashed national unity to pieces, shamelessly inciting Hindus against Muslims & now desperate (sic) setting peace-loving Punjabi Hindus against their Sikh brethren esp #farmers. They’re pushing patriotic Punjab into communal flames.” According to media reports, Badal said that the BJP did not feel indebted to soldiers and farmers and that it “is provoking the people to deny that debt. It remains so ungrateful to farmers that it is painting them as anti-national. Today it is the farmers. Nobody knows, the BJP might even say the same about soldiers tomorrow if it suits them.” All this could have been dismissed as mere rhetoric but for the potential of such words to be “misconstrued” in these tense times. By making such statements, a senior mainstream politician appears to be finding a religious colour in the churn taking place in Punjab over the farm laws. If the BJP is doing in Punjab what Badal is accusing it of, that should be brought to the public notice and the party exposed. But it does not behove a senior leader such as Badal to raise the issue of identity at a time when the protesters themselves are not identifying themselves with any religion. Also, it is not known what purpose is served by talking about soldiers, especially when Punjab sends so many of its sons to the Indian armed forces, and when most of them belong to farming families. We are confident that the Indian soldier will not be affected by the politics being played over the farm laws. We also do not believe that Badal is attempting to spread disaffection to put pressure on the government on rolling back the farm laws; however, conflating the issue of protesting farmers with that of the soldiers must be avoided.

In fact, nothing should be said or done, which has even the remotest possibility of sowing the seeds of discord. As it is Khalistani elements abroad—who think that this is the best opportunity to instigate another Khalistan movement in Punjab—are making mischief by raising the issue in British Parliament, by slandering India in London or by vandalising Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Washington DC. The brave people of Punjab have withstood a lot of pain but have emerged victorious over the Khalistanis who wreaked havoc in the state in the 1980s. That a programme such as “Referendum 2020”, sponsored by the secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice, does not have any resonance in Punjab is testament to this fact. Amidst this, Sukhbir Badal perhaps can devote some energy in condemning Parliamentarians such as Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa of the SAD (Democratic), who has thanked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for poking his pretty nose into India’s domestic affairs by lecturing the Indian government on the farmers’ right to protest. Justin Trudeau depends on anti-India Khalistanis to survive in power, so his desperation is understandable—although not justifiable—and the group of retired Indian ambassadors, who wrote to Trudeau were right to accuse him of indulging in vote bank politics. Isn’t it time that the Badals too became vocal against interference in India’s internal matters by foreign powers?

As the 2022 Assembly elections approach in Punjab, it is but natural that opposition to the farm laws will become one of the main electoral planks of most political parties there, as a section of farmers in that state see the laws going against their interest, the reason why the bulk of the protesters are from Punjab. But there is also no denying that a lot of misinformation and even disinformation has been spread to make the farmers fearful of the much-needed agricultural reforms and it is politicians who are to blame for this. The problem is also because political interests are involved in a very big way in the farming sector and more so in Punjab, where several vested interests are taking a hit because of the passage of these laws. These protests have been mobilised largely by these vested interests. Amidst this, senior political leaders should be careful about using rhetoric that can be “misconstrued”. Instead, they should encourage the protesting farmers to be reasonable while talking to the government. Right now, the protesters’ extreme position that the government must repeal these laws, is not a place from where conversations can begin. But for that the politicians first need to rise above self-interest.