Farmers say no talks until harassment stops, announce nationwide ‘chakka jam’ on February 6 even as numbers swell at protest points

Published : February 03, 2021 11:30 IST

Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP, with Rakesh Tikait, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border at Ghazipur on February 2. Photo: SANDEEP SAXENA

Around the time when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was making her Budget speech on February 1, farmers held a protest on the Delhi-Bahadurgarh stretch demanding the repeal of the three farm laws and protested against the sustained harassment by government agencies. New challenges have cropped up for the farmers as the police in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have barricaded the roads with concrete cement blocks and barbed wire, dug trenches on roads and embedded rows of nails on them in order to prevent farmers from joining in at the protest sites and also to ensure that they do not move towards Delhi. Internet services have been shut down in all the protest sites and in some districts of Haryana. Several farmers who took part in the kisan parade on January 26 and had strayed inadvertently into the Red Fort area were detained and arrested. The farmer unions have constituted a legal team to seek their release.

The harassment and the arrests seem to have only strengthened the resolve of the farmers and the unions. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has decided to hold a “Chakka Jam” on February 6 to press their demands. State and national highways would be blocked for three hours from 12 noon to 3 p.m. that day. The protest would be peaceful, said the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a constituent of the SKM.

Addressing a public meeting on February 2, Rakesh Tikait, spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union and chief anchorperson at the Ghazipur protest site on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, declared that there would no “ghar waapsi” or a return until there was a repeal or a “kanoon waapsi”. He had a surprise visitor in the form of Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament, who extended support to the agitation. Several Mahapanchayats in U.P. and Haryana have extended support to the farmers and have been dispatching farmers to Delhi to strengthen the numbers at the protest sites.

More political support

Earlier in the week, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) legislator Abhay Chautala, also dropped in to meet Rakesh Tikait and assured him of all support. Abhay Chautala, the lone legislator representing the INLD, has resigned from the Haryana Assembly to register his protest against the farm laws. In Haryana, where farmers continue to protest against the farm laws, there is a huge amount of resentment against the coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP).

Meanwhile, on day two of the Budget Session of Parliament, the opposition raised the issue of the farm laws, farmers’ agitation and the harassment of the farmers in both Houses. In the Lok Sabha, Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar said he was willing for a discussion within and outside Parliament though he has not yet made any fresh overtures for talks with the farmers. It has been close to a fortnight since the last meeting with the farmers but no fresh date has been suggested for discussions. After the 11th round of talks in the third week of January, when the government’s proposal to suspend the laws was rejected by the farmers, Narendra Tomar and his negotiating team conveyed an almost “take it or leave it” kind of a message to the farmers. This once again ended in a deadlock as there was no commitment on legalising the Minimum Support Price (MSP) based on the formula recommended by the M.S. Swaminathan Commission. Neither was there any progress on the other demands. Besides, the 11th round of discussions on January 22 was a humiliating experience for the farmers as they were made to wait for a considerable time by the government’s negotiating team led by the Agriculture Minister.

The government defended the fortification around the protest sites. The Delhi Chief Police Commissioner in fact feigned mild outrage when he was asked about it by mediapersons. “I am surprised that none of you asked these questions when the barricades were broken and policemen injured. We have only strengthened the barricades so that they are not broken repeatedly” he told mediapersons when he was asked about the reinforcements. Around 115 farmers have been jailed after they were arrested by the police on January 26 during the kisan parade. Many farmers were beaten up by the police, some sustained stitches on their scalps while several tractors were damaged and their tyres deflated. At least one farmer, Navreet Singh, died when his tractor toppled over. More than 170 farmers have died so far in the protests, including two women farmers from Maharashtra who were protesting at the Shahjahanpur border.

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