Former Punjab Chief Minster and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal returned his Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India, on Thursday to protest the “betrayal of farmers” by the Narendra Modi government, reported India Today.
“I feel so poor that I do not have much else to sacrifice to express solidarity with the farmers’ cause,” the 92-year-old said.
The former president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, which broke off its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in September over the Centre’s agricultural laws, said that there was no point in holding on to the award if the farmers were “dishonoured”.
“I owe everything to the farmers,” the five-time chief minister of Punjab continued. “I am who I am because of them...I am deeply pained by the betrayal on assurances given to farmers to address their apprehensions.”
Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa also returned his Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in India.
A group of sportspersons and coaches from Punjab have also said they will return their awards, according to NDTV. They said they will march to Delhi on Saturday in solidarity with the farmers.
“They [the farmers] have been holding peaceful agitation for several months,” Olympic hockey player Sajjan Singh Cheema, who was given the Arjuna award, said. “But water cannons and teargas shells were used against them.”
The Centre began talks with farmers’ leaders on Thursday again to try and break a deadlock over the agricultural laws. Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have camped out at the entrance to Delhi for the eight consecutive day to reverse the agricultural legislations, which they fear could pave the way for the government to stop buying grains at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of private buyers.
The farmers agitation has been met with violent action from police, who have attempted to turn them back by using water cannons and tear gas. The authorities had taken extraordinary measures to set up blockades on highways – parking buses, trucks and other large vehicles. At some places, they even dug up trenches to obstruct farmers, many of whom camped on highways for the night in chilling temperatures.