Farmers hold a silent protest at the venue of their talks with the government, threaten to continue the agitation until the farm laws are repealed

Published : December 06, 2020 11:50 IST

Protesting farmers at Singhu border near Delhi, on December 4. Photo: ANUSHREE FADNAVIS/REUTERS

On December 5, the farmers’ agitation, led by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Joint Front), entered its 10th day after the fifth round of talks held over five hours between the farmer representatives and the Central government proved inconclusive. A sixth round of talks will be held on December 9. The farmers had earlier turned down the government’s suggestion for constitution of an expert committee.

According to a farmer who attended the December 5 meeting at Vigyan Bhawan, the farmers’ delegations observed a “silent protest” at the talks. “We kept silent even as the government tried to draw us out. We held placards of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in response to their proposals. We tried to force the government to say in black and white that it would repeal [the laws], but the government did not commit to it,” the representative told the media. Meanwhile, the farmers continued to protest under the open skies in the bitter winter cold.

For the past three months, farmers across the country are staging unrelenting protests against the recently enacted farm laws. Several State governments have rejected the Central laws and enacted their own laws that made selling below the Minimum Support Price punishable. The latest round of protests was to take place in Delhi. The farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, had given a call for a march to Delhi in the fourth week of November but were stopped at the borders of the national capital and denied entry. They decided to set up camp where they were stopped by police barricades. Braving the Haryana police force’s water cannons, lathi charge and teargas shells, farmers from Punjab and Haryana managed to reach the borders of Delhi. Within a few days, farmers from Uttar Pradesh converged on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border at Ghaziabad and blocked one portion of the Meerut Expressway.

According to a spokesperson of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), a constituent member of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Joint Front), support for the protest has poured in from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Rajasthan. Political parties, too, have extended their support to the farmers. In Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president, held a dharna along with his supporters at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna in support of the main demands of the farmers while in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) held a protest meeting accusing the ruling Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of betraying the interests of the farmers.

While the farmers have been demanding nothing less than the withdrawal of the three controversial farm laws passed in the last Parliament session and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and creation of a legislative framework for minimum support price, the government has been reluctant to agree to the demands. Instead it has appealed to them to give up their protest in view of the cold season and so that citizens in Delhi wouldn’t be inconvenienced.

Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Agriculture Minister, told the media that the government wanted to discuss some issues but it “was not possible” at the talks. He said if the farmers’ representatives had offered some “suggestions”, a solution would have been possible. He also appealed to the farmer leaders to send the older members and children home in view of the winter cold and the COVID threat. He then went on to list the schemes for farmers claiming that the Narendra Modi was committed to the welfare of farmers.

The Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions has reiterated its support to the farmers and has called on all its affiliate federations and associations to participate in a Bharat Bandh on December 8 in support of the demands of the farmers. All the Left parties have extended their support to the all-India bandh call.

Meanwhile, the AIKS has condemned a Delhi police notice issued to Hannan Mollah, former Lok Sabha MP and AIKS general secretary, under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for protesting on Parliament Street in support of the farmers. Under this section, a person can be imprisoned up to a term of seven years. The notice also directs the former MP to produce himself whenever summoned by the police. In several States, protesters were rounded up and arrested.

The protests at the borders of Delhi will continue until the next round of talks on December 9. With each passing day, the protests are expected to intensify despite the wintry conditions in northern India. And with support pouring in from rest of the country, the farmers have every reason to feel enthused to carry on.

Several Punjabi celebrity singers and actors such as Daljit Dosanjh of Udta Punjab fame have lent their support to the farmers. Dosanjh visited the Singhu border, one of the major protest sites, squatted along with the farmers and exhorted the media to show the reality. Boxing legends and sportspersons from Punjab said that they would return the awards they received from the government.

News of the agitation has been reported in the international media too. The German online news service of the widely read popular tabloid Bild was the latest to carry a feature on the protest.