The movement of farmers demanding a complete rollback of new farm laws is growing across the country. Will the Modi government accept their demands? Or risk a bigger protest around the national capital?
Looking to mount pressure on the Centre ahead of the fifth round of talks on Saturday, farmers’ unions opposed to the new farm laws have called for a Bharat bandh on December 8.
A decision on the bandh was taken in a meeting of unions from Punjab, Haryana, UP and other states on Friday with everyone expressing doubts over the outcome of the fifth round of talks. It was decided by a voice vote their representatives at the talks would ask the Centre upfront to scrap the laws and that nothing less would do. “Or else, we may break the talks midway,” said H S Lakhowal, BKU-Lakhowal general secretary. BKU Dakonda’s Jagmohan Singh warned of blocking “more border points with Delhi”.
The farmers are protesting against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The issue before the farmers, the agitators said, was not about one particular clause — the Centre has indicated some amendments that stop well short of scrapping the laws — but about the direction in which the Centre was taking farming in the country. “The government has, so far, not been scrapped the laws. As a mark of our protest, we will burn effigies of PM Modi across the country on Saturday,” said H S Lakhowal, BKU-Lakhowal general secretary. “We also want written guarantee about MSP on all crops and assured purchase of crops by state procurement agencies.”
Farmers have gathered in and around Delhi to protest against the three farm laws. On Thursday, the farmers held the fourth round of talks with the Centre and said the government had talked of some amendments to farm laws. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said after the talks that the government has no ego and it was discussing the issues raised by farmers with an open mind.
“The government will discuss points that emerged at the meeting on Friday and hopes that talks will move towards finality when the next round of discussions are held on Saturday,” the minister had said
The hardening of positions, even though the farm unions prepare for talks, can be read as pressure tactics. Former CPM MP Hannan Mollah, general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, said, “We need to take this protest forward in support of farmers’ demands. The government has to take back the farm laws.” Both Lakhowal and Mollah attended the talks at Vigyan Bhawan on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called for a 3-day protest in Kolkata in support of farmers against the new farm laws. The decision was taken in the internal meeting chaired by the Chief Minister with Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders and district presidents of the state, sources from TMC informed ANI. TMC will stage Dharna on December 8, 9, and 10 against recently enacted farm laws near the Gandhi Statue in Kolkata.
In a series of tweets, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had on Thursday tweeted, “I am very much concerned about the farmers, their lives and livelihood. The central government must withdraw the anti-farmer bills. If they do not do so immediately, we will agitate throughout the state and the country. From the very start, we have been strongly opposing these anti-farmer bills.”
“The government is selling everything. You cannot sell Railways, Air India, Coal, BSNL, BHEL, banks, defense, etc. Withdraw ill-conceived disinvestment and privatization policy. We must not allow the treasures of our nation to be transformed into the BJP party’s personal assets,” she had added.
In a related development, asserting that he was not scared of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or anyone else, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday slammed all the opposition parties in the state for “playing politics” with the lives of the farmers to further their “own interests”.
This comes amid Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders targetted Punjab Chief Minister over the ongoing farmers’ protest against three farm laws. Singh, lambasting all the key opposition players, right from Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders Prakash Singh Badal, Sukhbir and Harsimrat, to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for their “flip-flops and for making a mockery of the fight of the farmers, who were sitting out in the cold on the roads to get their rightful due.”
The Chief Minister’s response comes after former union minister Harsimrat Badal alleged that he was under ED pressure. “All these Badals are alike, and they are all liars. Akali leaders should stop lying and tell the truth as the people know what you are,” he said.
The Punjab Chief Minister met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and urged the Centre to rethink its stand on the legislations while appealing to the farmers to find an early solution to the problem that was adversely impacting the “economy of the state and also posing a serious danger to national security”.
Commenting upon his meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the national capital on Thursday, Chief Minister said, “I had told Union Home Minister Amit Shah that the amendment Bills passed in Punjab Vidhan Sabha were the solution to breaking the deadlock over the farmers’ issue as they were the essence of the state’s future. I urged him to get the Bills approved by the President.”
While reacting to former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s decision to return the Padma Bhushan medal to the Government of India, Singh in a live video statement on Facebook said, “I do not know why Prakash Singh Badal got the Padma Bhushan in the first place.”
Captain Amarinder pointed out that as a member of the Union Cabinet, Harsimrat Kaur Badal had been very much a part of the meeting that passed the farm ordinances.
Meanwhile, in UP, calling himself a farmer and justifying the farmers’ protest, Member of Parliament and senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ram Gopal Yadav said that he has not got Minimum Support Price (MSP) for his maize crop. Sharing his personal experience and taking jibe at the central government, senior SP leader Yadav told ANI, “I have grown maize crops and government had announced MSP of Rs 2,660 per quintal but I got Rs 1,050. Across India nowhere farmers are getting MSP for their crops.”
Commenting upon the new farms laws, SP leader said, “The new laws are anti-farmer and it will end the APMC system which currently operates in the country.”
“We all know that the new farms laws are not in the interest of farmers and the current government is not ready to listen to farmers’ issues,” he added.
Yadav said that as per the available data, 60 per cent of employment in the country is based on agriculture.
“If the farmer remains prosperous, then the country will remain prosperous. In 2016, the share of (agriculture in) GDP was 18 per cent, but now it has become 12 per cent in five years. Farmers are not getting value for their hard work in farming,” he said.
The Samajwadi Party will announce a march across Uttar Pradesh in support of protesting farmers, Yadav said.
In Delhi, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Thursday wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla for convening a short winter session of parliament to discuss pressing issues including farmers protest, preparation of COVID-19 vaccine and standoff along LAC in eastern Ladakh.
The Congress leader said that the session will help the nation to understand and appreciate the current issues that the country is grappling with.
It is a call the Modi government needs to take as soon as possible.