Agri laws: We can bring down government, warns Tikait; Tomar says not having informal talks with farmers

Express News Service
CHANDIGARH: The protesting farmers at a mahapanchayat in Haryana’s Jind district on Wednesday passed five resolutions demanding a repeal of the three farm laws, making a law to ensure minimum support price, waiving farmers’ loans, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and withdrawal of criminal cases registered against protesters in Delhi on January 26.

They also threatened a mahapanchayat at the national level, saying such gatherings will continue across the country till government repeals the laws. 

Speaking at the Jind mahapanchayat on Wednesday, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait warned the BJP government could lose power if the agitation continues.

“The government should listen carefully: What will you do if the youth give a call for ‘gaddi wapsi’ (removal from power),” he said. Referring to massive blockades put up by Delhi Police at border points, Tikait said, “When the king is scared, he secures the fortress.’’

Just before Tikait was to begin his speech at the ”mahapanchayat” in Kandela village, the makeshift stage on which the farmer leaders had gathered collapsed under their weight.

Nobody was reported hurt and Tikait went on to address the gathering.

But the episode triggered a commotion and he and the event organisers had to repeatedly tell people to maintain calm.

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Calling for a “wapsi” (withdrawal) of the new central laws, Tikait indirectly warned the Narendra Modi government that it could lose its “gaddi” (power) if the agitation continues.

“We have so far talked about “bill wapsi” (repealing the farm laws). The government should listen carefully. What will you do if the youth call for “gaddi wapsi” (removal from power)?” he said.

He asked the Centre to repeal the three laws and frame a new one to assure continuation of the minimum support price (MSP) system.

The BKU leader from Uttar Pradesh has been camping at Ghazipur on the Delhi-UP border as part of a campaign by farmer unions against the central laws enacted in September.

Farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are also massed at Tikri and Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border for two months.

After violence on Republic Day, police barricaded these protest sites with cement barriers and spikes on the roads leading to them.

Criticising the restrictions, Tikait said, “When the king is scared, he secures the fortress.”

He suggested that he would lay down on the nails embedded on the roads there so that others can cross them by stepping on him.

He said the Centre must talk with the farmer unions spearheading the agitation.

The ”mahapanchayat” was attended by Haryana BKU chief Gurnam Singh Chaduni and BKU leader from Punjab, Balbir Singh Rajewal.

Over 50 “khap” leaders were also present.

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Last week, a large number of farmers participated in a mahapanchayat in UP’s Muzaffarnagar in support of the BKU-led protest at Ghazipur.

Jind is often considered part of Haryana’s political heartland and the ”mahapanchayat” was meant to muster support for the farmers’ agitation.

It was organised by Sarva Jatiya Kandela Khap headed by Tekram Kandela.

Five resolutions were passed at the “mahapanchayat”.

These urged the government to repeal the new laws, give a legal guarantee on the MSP, implement the Swaminathan Commission report, waive farm loans and release farmers arrested after the events in Delhi on January 26.

Tikait said the campaign against the farm laws was going strong.

“The way we are getting support from khap panchayats, we will win this fight.”

He urged everyone involved, particularly the youth, to keep protesting in a peaceful manner and assured victory will be theirs.

He underlined the role played by farmers and their unions from Punjab.

“We need their help. Haryana and Uttar Pradesh will back them. We will maintain the prestige of the farmer’s turban,” he said.

Seeking to project unity among the farmer unions, Tikait referred to BKU (Rajewal) chief Balbir Singh Rajewal as “our leader”.

Tikait, whose show of emotion recently appeared to have helped revive the farmers’ agitation after the violence on Republic Day, said there are 40 unions spearheading the protest and decisions will be taken collectively.

Rajewal accused the Modi government of behaving with farmers in a manner that “no other government in the world” would.

“Centre brought laws which will destroy farmers and this country. We began this agitation several months back in Punjab, it has now spread to entire country,” he told the “mahapanchayat”.

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On the new police barricades, Rajewal said the government has turned protest sites into a kind of “open jails”.

Khap leader Kandela said the prime minister and the Union home minister should talk directly with the protesting farmers.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) on Wednesday said it is a matter of pride that eminent personalities of the world are showing sensitivity towards the cause of farmers, but it is unfortunate that the Government of India is not understanding their pain.

The remarks come a day after international pop star Rihanna and young environmental activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in support of the farmers’ agitation.

The SKM, an umbrella body of farmer unions protesting against three agri laws, acknowledged the support of international personalities towards the ongoing farmers’ movement.

“On one hand, it is a matter of pride that eminent personalities of the world are showing sensitivity towards the cause of farmers, while on the other hand, it is unfortunate that the Government of India is not understanding the pain of the farmers and some people are even calling peaceful farmers as terrorists,” the SKM said in a statement issued by its leader Darshan Pal.

The Morcha also asserted that the agitation is getting stronger day by day.

“After massive support in kisan mahapanchayats in Uttar Pradesh, farmers have organised mahapanchayats in Dabra and Phulbagh in Madhya Pradesh, Mehndipur in Rajasthan and Jind in Haryana. A large number of farmers will be coming to Delhi in the coming days,” the statement said.

Farmers from Rajasthan and Punjab are coming to the Shahjahanpur border daily.

The farmers have again started a dharna at Palwal border and many from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan will join the agitation in coming days, the Morcha said in the statement.

The umbrella body of farmer unions said it has taken note of transport-related problems and alleged that the government has shut down the internet and now the entry of media persons to the protest sites is also being “choked” by it.

“The government is fearful of the reality of this movement reaching the common people across the country and is doing its best to block communication from the protest sites,” the SKM said.

“It is high time that internet services are restored, barricading of main and internal roads is removed, supplies are freely allowed, and protesters are released by the government, the Morcha demanded.

The outfit also extended support to the one-day strike of electricity workers across the country, saying it “strongly opposed” privatisation of the power sector.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar Wednesday said the Centre is not holding any informal talk with protesting farmers and described putting up of more barricades and suspending internet in and around agitation sites as law and order issues related to local administrations.

The last and 11th round of meeting between the government and 41 protesting unions, held on January 22, was inconclusive.

The Centre had asked unions to reconsider the government’s proposal to suspend new farm laws for 18 months.

Asked if the government was engaging with the unions informally, Tomar told PTI, “No. We will inform when formal talks will be held.”

He was also asked when the government will hold the next round of talks.

When told that protesting unions demand that no formal talks with the government can be held until the police and the administration stop “harassing” them and release the detained farmers, the minister said, “They should talk to the Police Commissioner. I don’t want to comment on the law and order issue. That’s not my job.”

Separately, Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary said in a statement that the dialogue is the only way out for finding a solution for any kind of protest.

The government is trying and it is ready to talk inside as well as outside Parliament, he said.

The minister said the laws are in favour of farmers, but the Opposition was politicising the issue.

Choudhary also said he will give up his ministership and leave the politics if farmers lose even one inch of their land under these laws.

Since the January 22 talks, there has been no meeting between the farmer leaders and the Centre to discuss the farm laws although the government reiterated that its offer stands and doors are open for discussion.

On Tuesday, Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) — the umbrella body of farmers’ unions protesting the Central farm laws — had said that there can be no “formal” talks with the government until the “harassment” of different kinds against the farmers’ movement by the police and administration is “immediately stopped”.

The SKM had also said no formal proposal for talks has been received by it.

“Though no formal proposal for talks came from the government, we clearly state that the talks will be held only after the unconditional release of farmers who are in illegal police custody,” SKM had said in a statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an all-party meeting on Saturday had said the government’s offer to suspend the farm laws for 18 months was still on the table and the agriculture minister was just a phone call away to take the talks forward.

The sites of the farmer protest at Delhi’s borders have turned into fortresses with police beefing up security and putting up multi-layer barricades to stop the movement of vehicles.

Concertina wires and metal spikes have also been put up to keep off people on foot.

The strengthened security measures come after the violence during the Republic Day tractor parade by the farmers.

(With PTI Inputs)