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Armed with facts, unrelenting farmers counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge that opposition parties are misleading them

Published : Dec 26, 2020 10:03 IST T+T-
Watched by policemen, volunteers put up tents for the protesting farmers in the middle of a blocked highway at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on December 25.

Watched by policemen, volunteers put up tents for the protesting farmers in the middle of a blocked highway at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on December 25.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a fresh offensive against opposition parties a day after Vivek Agrawal, Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Agriculture, wrote to 40 farmer organisations that their demand for a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) defied logic and was not “reasonable”.

On December 25, addressing farmers from six States through video-conferencing, the Prime Minister claimed there was record procurement of produce at MSP rates and warned farmers not to fall prey to misinformation. He said if there were weaknesses (in the laws), they should point it out with reason and logic. Ironically, this is exactly what farmers had been doing for the past seven months—explaining the problem with the farm laws with reason and logic.

Modi also made a veiled attack on the Left parties with references to West Bengal. He made a pointed reference to the Left Front in Bengal and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala, saying that Kerala did not have an Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system. This, said P. Krishnaprasad, finance secretary, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), was a misrepresentation of facts. He posted on Twitter that in Kerala, 82 per cent of crops grown were cash crops. The MSP for paddy in Kerala was Rs.2,870, while the Central government’s MSP was Rs.1870 without guaranteed procurement, he tweeted.

The Prime Minister accused the opposition parties of indulging in “event management”. However, agitating farmers point out that it was the government that has dragged its feet in the hope of tiring them out and launched a counter campaign to “convince” the farmers of the virtues of the farm laws. The government also entered into consultations with obscure farmer organisations to show that the farmers were a divided lot. A day earlier, 11 parties had issued a joint statement registering their protest against the “baseless allegations” made by the Prime Minister accusing the opposition of having a hand in the farmer protests. The accusations by the Prime Minister, they stated, “was a complete travesty of truth”. They said that they were not against reforms per se , but the kind of reforms suggested in the farm laws were totally against the interests of the farmers.

The attack on the opposition parties seemed illogical. In fact, they have assiduously stayed away from the protests, confining themselves to sending representations and memorandums to the President. They have refrained from directly participating in the protests and drawn criticism from some quarters for their “indifference”. Perhaps anticipating that their participation would be used by the BJP to discredit the protest and the farmers, they have consciously desisted from events related to the protests. The farmers, too, did not invite them for meetings. On the other hand, several senior Ministers and Chief Ministers in BJP-ruled States went all out campaigning in support of the three farm laws, tweeting about them and lambasting the opposition.

The letter of the Joint Secretary, Agriculture, on December 24 and the utterances of the Prime Minister on December 25 make it amply clear that the government is not going to relent. The letter cherry-picked on issues, stating that the government was open to discussions on the Essential Commodities Act and stubble burning issues. The government has been trying to convey the impression that it was not aware of the demands of the farmers. However, farmer leaders say that they have been consistently pointing out the flaws in the three farm laws since June and sending multiple representations to the government, and meeting senior Ministers such as Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Narendra Singh Tomar, the Agriculture Minister.

Meanwhile, the agitation entered its 30th day and showed no signs of abating with more and more farmers joining at the protest sites. A convoy of vehicles with 2,500 farmers led by the AIKS reached Shahjahanpur on the Haryana-Rajasthan border by road. In Uttarakhand, a tractor with farmers that was prevented from reaching Delhi ploughed through the police barricades. At Moradabad, farmers were stopped by the a huge contingent of the police. They made videos and shared it with the media.

All the BJP-led governments in States adjoining Delhi have prevented farmers from joining the protests in Delhi. In Haryana, the police registered first information reports (FIRs) under Section 307 (attempt to murder) against 13 farmers who were accused of attacking the Chief Minister’s convoy. At Jind, Haryana, farmers reportedly dug up a helipad, preventing Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala from addressing a public meeting.