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Opposition Parties Unite to Challenge Contentious Farm Bills to be Tabled in Rajya Sabha Today; BJP Issues Whip

Farmers hold placards during a demonstration following the passing of agriculture bills in the Lok Sabha, in Amritsar on Friday. (AFP)

Farmers hold placards during a demonstration following the passing of agriculture bills in the Lok Sabha, in Amritsar on Friday. (AFP)

BJP leaders expressed confidence that they will get the support of over 130 members, including nine of the AIADMK and six of the YSR Congress -- both of whom are not part of the ruling alliance if a division of votes is sought on these bills.

High political drama is expected on Sunday as the Rajya Sabha is likely to take up three farm bills, with the Congress and many opposition parties trying to put a united front to oppose these proposed legislations terming them as anti-farmer and pro-corporate, even as the ruling BJP is also reaching out to several regional outfits for support.

The numbers, however, appear to be in favour of the ruling dispensation to get these bills passed from Rajya Sabha, while the lower house has already cleared them despite a key NDA member, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), opposing them.

A few key BJP leaders are said to be in touch with various non-Congress opposition parties to seek support from their Rajya Sabha members for these bills. While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is yet to have a clear majority of its own in the 245-member Rajya Sabha, many regional parties have backed it for the last several sessions to ensure passage of various legislations proposed by the government.

BJP leaders expressed confidence that they will get the support of over 130 members, including nine of the AIADMK and six of the YSR Congress -- both of whom are not part of the ruling alliance if a division of votes is sought on these bills. Another regional party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), was also being wooed by the BJP, but its chief and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on Saturday asked his party MPs to vote against these bills, alleging these would cause great injustice to farmers.

The BJP itself has the highest tally with 86 seats, followed by 40 of the Congress. The three members of the SAD are sure to vote against the bills, but Shiv Sena, a former BJP ally and now in opposition, has expressed its support. The Maharashtra party has three members in Rajya Sabha. Several other regional parties, including three-member Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party with eight seats, and BSP with four, have joined the opposition's ranks in protest against these bills but it may not prove enough to hinder their passage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's forceful defence of the three bills and blistering criticism of the opposition for protesting against them on Thursday made it clear that he remains unfazed by the opposition and that his government will press on to get Parliament's nod for these measures aimed at opening private avenues for farmers to sell their produce. Modi's assertion came even as the Congress and several other parties came out strongly against these bills, calling them "anti-farmers".

Farmers in states like Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against these proposed laws which, their leaders allege, will end up dismantling the existing government-backed support system they have. A number of parties that have come out against these draft legislations suggests there are as of now nearly 100 MPs opposing them. There is no clarity about the stand of some small parties which have around a dozen members put together.

Since the Modi government assumed office for its second time in 2019, its rivals have not been able to scuttle any of its major bills due to a rise in the ranks of treasury benches and a corresponding fall in the opposition ranks. The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill were passed by Lok Sabha on Thursday, while the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill was passed on Tuesday.

These bills seek to replace ordinances already promulgated by the government. With opposition parties dubbing the three bills as "anti-farmers" and the SAD quitting his government to protest them, Modi refuted their criticism, describing these proposed laws as "historic" and stating they will unshackle farmers by allowing them to sell their produce anywhere at a better price.

A day after resigning from the Union Cabinet, senior SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal said she feels "saddened" that her voice in support of farmers was not heard and demanded that the government should pause on these legislations by referring them to a parliamentary panel for wider consultations.

The government has presented these bills as pro-farmers, saying these will ensure they get better prices for their produce and do not get subjected to regulations of "mandis". Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said in Lok Sabha that farmers will be free to sell their produce to anyone and these bills will increase competition and promote private investment, which will help in the development of farm infrastructure and generate employment.

However, opposition parties have slammed the bills as "anti-farmers", claiming the agriculture sector will be left to the fate of corporate interests. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal also appealed to all non-BJP parties to unite in Rajya Sabha and oppose the bills that he claimed would leave farmers in the hands of big companies for exploitation.

(With inputs from PTI)