Farmer protests

Punjab: Rising tide of anger

Print edition : October 23, 2020

Farmers block a national highway during a protest against the farm Bills, in Shambhu in Punjab on September 25. Photo: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

Farmers in Punjab, the food bowl of the nation, vehemently oppose the agriculture Bills as they feel the Bills will soon make the small and marginal farmer landless.

The anger against the three agriculture Bills shows no signs of abating in Punjab. The food bowl of the country has been brought to a grinding halt by the farmers of the State. They are on the road protesting vehemently against the Narendra Modi government’s decision to push through the Bills in Parliament without taking their objections into consideration. Close on the heels of a Statewide bandh which witnessed near total support, a delegation of farmers met Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

The Chief Minister is said to have assured the farmers of his support for their cause and suggested that the entire State be considered an open mandi, or principal market yard, for future agricultural transactions in order to make sure that the purchaser pays the same taxes even if he buys in a private area beyond the authorised mandi. One of the key provisions of the Bill is that farmers are encouraged to sell in an open market without the minimum support price (MSP). Amarinder Singh participated in a sit-in protest at Khatkar Kalan, the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village, to protest against the Bills.

Says Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader: “A delegation of farmers met the Chief Minister. He listened to our grievances and assured us help. He mooted the idea of an open mandi. However, how is the market supposed to function when there is no MSP? If we allow the so-called open market to function, soon the farmer, who feeds the nation, will be impoverished.”

“I along with my colleagues from @INCPunjab held a protest against Centre’s Anti-Farmer Laws at Khatkar Kalan in SBS Nagar. Most of our farmers are small & marginal who will be severely impacted by these legislations. We stand by Punjab’s farmers & will do everything to oppose it,” Amarinder Singh tweeted. He assured the farmers that, if needed, a special session of the Stae Assembly would be convened to amend the State’s laws in order to counter the Bills passed by the Central government. He termed the new Bills “draconian” and told the farmers’ delegation: “We will take all possible steps to counter the Union government’s assault on the State’s federal and constitutional rights and fight for the interests of the farmers. If legal experts advise amendment to State laws to fight the Central laws, a special session of the Assembly will be immediately convened to do so.”

Lakhowal felt that the new Bills would turn a land-owning small farmer into a landless farmer within a few years and, in the absence of a fixed MSP, the farmer would be virtually robbed of his produce at throwaway prices by corporate houses. His point was reiterated by the Chief Minister when he said, “Most of our farmers are small and marginal. They will be the most impacted by the new laws.”

According to Lakhowal, the main problem is the absence of anMSP for the farmers’ produce. “We wanted an MSP to be fixed but the government did not pay heed to our demand. We had mooted this when the Ordinances were brought in during the lockdown. We had then submitted memorandums to District Magistrates across the State. It proved a futile exercise as the government turned a deaf ear to our requests. But look at the condition today. Look at the Pratirodh Diwas response. Look at the impact of kisan agitations. The farmers have forced the Akali Dal to withdraw its support to the government at the Centre. If they had not done so, the Badals and other MPs would not have been allowed to enter their villages.”

Incidentally, the call for a Pratirodh Diwas was made by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, and both Haryana and Punjab witnessed total bandh on that day with lakhs of people coming out on the roads to protest. Major highways were choked as trade unions, educationists and students supported farmers in their agitation against the agriculture Bills.

The farmers have decided not to allow any Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader to enter his or her constituency or village. Not just the MPs, even district-level leaders of the party have been urged by farmers not to hold any meetings. Today, even a BJP MP like Sunny Deol is not “allowed” to enter his constituency.

“We know he is Dharmendra’s son, whom we love so much. But it is not about Sunny Deol or any individual. We are asking kisan leaders everywhere to hit the road. We are asking the alliance partners of the BJP in Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Bihar to review their support to the governments in their States. We have met Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson (Dushyant), asking him to take back his support for the BJP. We are even asking the BJP leaders to raise their voices for farmers with Prime Minister Modi. Our Prime Minister thinks farmers are weak. He is mistaken. Even Indira Gandhi thought she would rule for ever with the Emergency but she had to eat humble pie. Modi should beware. Farmers’ anger leaves none untouched."

The farmers have now decided to halt all trains in the State. They have spared public transport buses, but they are not allowing any trains to enter Punjab. “They are stopping the trains in Haryana. We will not allow the trains to enter Punjab,” says Lakhowal. “You cannot deprive the farmer of his livelihood and conduct your business as usual. The farmer is not so weak. We realise the language the government understands. We will speak in their language and make sure the three Bills are withdrawn. Until then, no farmer will relent, be it in Punjab or elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, rallies, bandhs and protests are unlikely to stop any time soon in Punjab. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is due to address a farmers’ rally in the State. and speak to the farmers in BJP-ruled Haryana. The BJP government there is unlikely to allow it. “We will know then where Dushyant Chautala stands,” said Lakhowal. The Punjab farmers’ protests will impact life beyond Punjab.

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