Protesting farmers accuse Govt of ‘divide and defame’

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on December 14, 2020

Farmers continue their agitation against the farm laws at Tikri Border in New Delhi   -  Kamal Narang

Organise day-long hunger strike even as the face-off enters 19th day

The face-off between protesting farmers and the government intensified with the latter rolling down the red carpet for a separate farmers’ organisation headed by former Rajya Sabha MP Bhupinder Singh Mann which publicly backed the three central farm laws against which the blockade of Delhi entered its 19th day on Monday.

The agitating farmers accused the government of trying to ‘divide and defame’ their movement, while ‘sweet-talking’ them into conceding amendments in the laws. Agriculture Minister Narender Singh Tomar, on his part, was quick to release a statement by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee which submitted a memorandum to him, declaring their support for the farm laws. The Committee was formed by the late farmer leader Sharad Joshi and is now headed by former Rajya Sabha MP Bhupinder Singh Mann. The Committee’s memorandum to the Agriculture Minister said that the three farm laws should be implemented with some amendments.

Anxious BJP

The BJP is also anxious about the fate of the Manohar Lal Khattar-led Government in Haryana where its alliance partner, the Janta Jannayak Party (JJP) led by Dushyant Chautala, is under pressure by the powerful community organisations called khaps, 90 of which have declared support for the farmers’ movement. They have been pushing Chautala to withdraw support to the Khattar government. Chautala held a closed-door meeting with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday.

‘Willing to listen’

The Agriculture Minister declared that the government is ready to engage in dialogue with the farmers but underlined that the “intention and policy of the government are clear and the farmers are already benefiting from reforms which will help in increasing the income of the farmers”. He was joined by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who, while addressing the annual convention of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), said the Government is “always willing to listen to our farmer brothers, allay their misgivings and provide them with assurances”.

Govt working to split

Within the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the umbrella body of farmers’ organisations from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, etc there were apprehensions that the government is working behind the scenes to split the movement. The AIKSCC closed ranks and removed its former Convenor VM Singh by doing away with the post he held altogether. Singh was among the farmer leaders who was urging the protesters to go to Burari, the venue designated by Home Minister Amit Shah. The AIKSCC has now formed a working group which will take all decisions, be it meeting with the government/Ministers, further course of action, etc. “The National Working Group AIKSCC decided to do away with the post of the Convenor. Henceforth, all decisions shall be taken only by the Working Group which shall be the official position of the AIKSCC,” said a short statement issued by the farmers’ body.

There were also apprehensions about the petition moved by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) headed by Rakesh Tikait from western Uttar Pradesh. Tikait’s organisation has moved the Supreme Court demanding the scrapping of the three farm laws but there is a widespread feeling among a number of farm leaders that taking the court route is not appropriate when there is already a mass movement against the farm laws.

Day-long fasting

Meanwhile, the day-long fast by the farmers involved participation with dharnas and protests by the fasting farmers across the country. In Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal observed the fast with his Cabinet Minister as a gesture of public support for the farmers’ movement.

There was bickering among the political parties, especially AAP, Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) which has been trying to recover lost ground in Punjab after withdrawing from the NDA against the farm laws. SAD leader and former Chief Minister of Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal attacked the Centre for attaching labels like “anti-national” and “tukde-tukde gang” to the agitating farmers.

The epithets have been used by Ministers of late and on Monday, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra reiterated the insinuation.

Badal said the BJP is under the mistaken belief that only their supporters are nationalists and the rest are anti-nationals. “If one agrees with the NDA government, he is a desh-bhakt (nationalist). But if not, he is a desh drohi (anti-national) or extremist or from tukde-tukde gang. Are Parkash Singh Badal, who returned his Padma Vibhushan or Harsimrat Kaur, who resigned from Union Ministry to protest against the agri laws desh drohi?,” asked Badal.

Published on December 14, 2020

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