After poll debacle, veteran farmer leader prepares comeback on ‘fight for Punjab’s water’

Nearly a month after he was defeated in Punjab polls, where he even lost his security deposit, farmer leader and chief of Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) Balbir Singh Rajewal is preparing to return to the political arena again. The 79-year-old who played a key role in the farmer’s agitation says he will “fight for Punjab’s water” this time.

Speaking at Shahi Palace in Samrala, from where he contested the elections, and got only 4,676 votes (3.5% of the total votes polled), he said, “Everyone knows the water level of Punjab is going down drastically and Punjab will soon be a desert. We need to work on saving water… Our political opponents are going to create a narrative of Punjab versus Haryana and even Rajasthan… but who will check the free flow of water going towards Pakistan from Hari-ke-Pattan?”

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“I am studying this matter deeply… I want to give some time to this (AAP) government. In July we will give them a notice on the issue of Punjab’s waters and then start a movement. We hope people will join this cause as water is life,” he said.

The SSM was floated by 22 out of 32 farmer unions from Punjab on December 25, 2021 after farm agitation at Delhi borders had ended following the repeal of the farm laws. Later, the constituents of this new farmers’ political front dropped to only 13 from 22.

The farmers’ front, however, was decimated in the AAP wave in the state with 93 out of its 94 candidates, who entered the fray as Independents, losing their security deposit.

“During the farmer agitation, people became clear that they needed a change, a badlav, from old parties. However, they found that change in AAP as we got very less time to campaign and reach out to the masses. We formed SSM on December 25, 2021, and so couldn’t get votes. The SSM will continue to exist but we are yet to decide about its larger role in the future,” he said.

As he prepares to take on the state government, Rajewal said that the “public issue (of water) will be raised through BKU(Rajewal), the union for which I started working 52 years ago.”

“Earlier too, many farm unions had joined us. We hope that this time as well we all will come together on a common platform.”

Elaborating on the issue of water further, Rajewal said, “From Hari-ke-Pattan in Ferozepur, free water goes towards Pakistan and this issue has never been addressed. If this can be controlled, Punjab will have enough water for its own use and give to neighbouring states as well. Similarly, the flow of Ravi water towards Pakistan… Somehow, politicians keep shouting about issues that divide us, and so they say not even a drop of water can be given to Haryana… But what about Pakistan?”

“Also, when Delhi pays Himachal Pradesh to get water, why not to Punjab? There should also be an account of Yamuna water. It was part of Punjab before Haryana and Himachal were formed,” said the 79-year-old.

The senior farmer leader also said that the fight for Punjab’s waters “will be done in coordination with our Haryana brothers as we are one.”

Talking about his suspension from Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) — the umbrella body that spearheaded the agitation against the now-repealed farm laws – after the decision to contest the elections in Punjab, Rajewal said, “I am not the only leader who contested elections… Yogendra Yadav has his own party, Rakesh Tikait contested in the past, Hannan Mollah is a former MP and still a member of CPI(M)… Then why should such conditions be applied to me. Our talks are on and we are hopeful that the issue will be resolved soon. I started the agitation against farm laws. Some forces are trying to create differences but we will not let it happen,” he said.

The 79-year-old also admitted that while he plans to focus on ‘saving water’, paddy crops are consuming huge amounts of water. “We can’t tell farmers to grow anything else till the time they don’t get an alternative crop with MSP surety. But we can sensitise them about saving water and stop the flow of free water towards Pakistan.”

In July, he said, BKU (Rajewal) and other farmer unions will work in the field to talk about the importance of saving water, and then raise the issue in a big way. “No water, no life. We need to understand this,” he concluded.

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