Meet farmers seeking change: The Tribune India

Tribune press service

Aparna Banerji

Jalandhar, January 23

It started as a protest for their rights, free from political aspiration, for thousands of Punjabi farmers who rode their tractors into Delhi’s borders in November 2020 against the Three Farm Bills.

However, many farmers in Doaba now find themselves in the midst of hectic political activity ahead of the 2022 elections, as they have been chosen as candidates for the newly formed political group – the Sanyukta Samaj Morcha.

While the SSM and Gurnam Singh Charuni’s Sanyukta Sangharsh Party (SSP) have so far jointly announced eight candidates in Doaba, The Tribune spoke to prominent farmers who have been put forward as candidates by the SSM…

Jaswinder Singh Sangha (56)

As early as December 28, the Sangha-led Jalandhar Potato Growers’ Association pledged its support for the SSM. When the Sangha was declared a candidate for the central headquarters of Jalandhar Cantt on Saturday, it also meant the tacit support of the 7,000-member Potato Growers Association, which strongly backs the Kisan Andolan and the SSM. It is that rare occasion when an influential farmer in Doaba contests from a political platform made by farmers and not from a traditional political package. After revolutionizing potato farming and the potato industry, Sangha has spoken widely over the years about successive potato gluts and the huge chasm between consumer and farmer that makes middlemen make obscene profits. The SSM nominee, he says in part, will address these issues. Jaswinder Singh Sangha said, “The voter’s real issues never take center stage in elections. Our food, water and air are our main needs. They guarantee happiness above other electoral stakes. But they are never highlighted. With SSM, we would be talking about farmers getting their due and consumers no longer being fooled with high prices. Our challenges are guaranteed MSP, water, food security. The end goal of the morcha is to make the agricultural sector so economically viable and self-sufficient that it provides large-scale employment and stops the exodus of young people. Sangha has been lined up from Jalandhar Cantt where he will face Pargat Singh of Congress, Jagbir Brar of SAD.

Rakesh Kumar (44)

On November 27, 2020, when Doaba tractors crossed the Singhu border, Rakesh tractors were also among many to cross Delhi borders in protest. Born in Kolkata, Kumar returned to his village of Sarmastpur on the Jalandhar-Pathankot highway to pursue farming on his ancestral land. Having been active as a member of the Doaba Kisan Sangharsh committee to raise the issue of sugarcane farmers since 2015-16, Rakesh has settled in his village for many years with his family. In 2003 he was the sarpanch of his village, in 2008 a member of the Samiti bloc and will contest his first election from Kartarpur of the SSM this year. He owns 18 acres and sows crops on 65 acres. He says that with SSM, the benefit to farmers is maximized. Rakesh says, “What does a farmer need. Basic education, health, the guaranteed price, the freedom to obtain a good dividend for its production. But farmers have been sidelined and ignored by ruling dispensations. I sow wheat, rice and sugar cane on my land. I dream of a future where farmers get a fair price for their products and are financially independent enough to make their own by-products for their products rather than a third party coming in and making a profit. Political parties promise better deals to children who want to move. We want them to stay back and strengthen the system.

Mandeep Singh-Samra (45)

President of the Bharti Kisan Union Rajewal, Mandeep Singh Samra had been active in a series of agitations organized both in Doaba and in Delhi (Kisan Andolan) to protest against the three agricultural laws. Going from village to village to mobilize trade union officials, he now finds himself undertaking the same exercise, but this time to seek votes. Walking through the villages with the members of his union, he said: “Do partisyan to akk chukke haan. Lokan nu hun badal chaida hai (We’ve had enough of both parties. People need a change now). Samra says the constant exodus of young people from the state to foreign countries is very disappointing for the farmers. “There is an increase in corruption. The poor do not benefit from a patient hearing under the current dispensation. This makes going abroad seem like a safer option. Punjab needs a political unity that makes the state feel safer than the option of returning abroad. People need a political party that speaks for them and gives them respite from corruption and drugs.

10 in melee so far

  • In total, the SSM and its ally SSP (Sanyukt Sangharsh Party) have so far declared 10 candidates in Doaba. Of these, only candidate Shahkot is from the SSP, the others are all from the SSM
  • From Jalandhar Cantt he lined up Jaswinder Singh Sangha, Jalandhar North Des Raj Jassal, Nakodar Mandeep Singh Samra, Adampur Purshottam Heer, Shahkot Jagtar Singh Chandi, Kartarpur Rakesh Kumar, Phillaur Ajay Kumar, Sultanpur Lodhi Harprit Pal Singh Virk, Kapurthala Kulwant Singh Joshan and Dasuya Ram Lal Sandhu

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