Home Minister Amit Shah calls for a late night meeting with farmer leaders after the Bharat Bandh’s widespread success but the stand-off continues as the government refuses to repeal the farm laws

Published : December 09, 2020 08:18 IST

Farmers protesting at Tikri border near Delhi against Centre's farm laws, on December 8. Photo: PTI

The four-hour Bharat Bandh called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha comprising almost 500 farmer and peasant organisations received a moderate to rousing response across the country, including in States governed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Interestingly, even as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders accused the opposition of having a political agenda behind their support to the bandh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah proposed a meeting with a delegation of the farmers.

Twenty four political parties backed the all-India protest including the Congress, all the five Left parties— the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Ten central trade unions and their federations, including railway worker unions supported or participated in the bandh. Various grassroots organisations of the political parties and workers in the unorganised sector took part in it. Several district and bar associations also supported the bandh call. But the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmer organisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), stayed away from the farmer protests and the bandh.

According to the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), more than 50 lakh people participated in 20,000 cities and towns across the country. “All sections of the common working class people and white collar workers joined the bandh,” said the AIKSCC in a statement. It said the bandh was near total in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Punjab and West Bengal while the it was widespread in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, Tripura and Kerala. In Araria, Bihar, shopkeepers voluntarily downed their shutters. In West Bengal, even though the TMC leadership supported the bandh, its cadre did not participate in it. It was the Left parties that steered the bandh in the State.

The protests were peaceful even though in the BJP-ruled States such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the police rounded up and arrested several farmer leaders, mainly those from the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). In Gujarat, the police arrested the office-bearers of the AIKS and the State secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). In Haryana, K.K. Ragesh, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament from the CPI(M), and other AIKS office-bearers were manhandled by the police while peacefully demonstrating in Gurgaon. In Delhi, the AAP alleged that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was kept under house arrest and not allowed to meet anyone. Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told the media that the Chief Minister was placed under house arrest as he did not allow the stadiums to be converted to “jail” the farmers.

Even as BJP leaders dismissed the impact of the bandh claiming that it was orchestrated by the opposition, leaders of the five Left parties congratulated the united kisan movement for its “historic bandh” and “determination and sacrifice”. A delegation of the opposition, including Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary, and Sharad Pawar, NCP president, is scheduled to meet Ram Nath Kovind, President of India, on December 9 on the ongoing farmer protests and the controversial farm laws.

At the borders of Delhi adjoining Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, farmers continued with their sit-in, demonstrating peacefully. At the Tikri border near Haryana, which has the second largest contingent of farmers on protest after the sit-in at the Singhu border on National Highway 44, blood donation camps were held and farmers donated blood. A torchlight procession was also carried out.

Despite the success of the bandh, a section of the visual media projected it as a conspiracy engineered by opposition parties. Yet, even their own visuals showed downed shutters, empty streets and desolate market places.

The sixth round of talks between the farmers and the government was scheduled to be held on December 9. Therefore, it was surprising that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had sought an audience with the representative group of the farmer organisations. It was believed that the success of the bandh was the reason for the meeting called by the Home Minister. Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Agricultural Minister, met Manohar Lal Khattar, Haryana Chief Minister. The farmers’ protest is being mainly led by farmers of Haryana and Punjab.

The farmers and the government sat through five rounds of meetings and each time the government has refused to accept their demand to repeal the farm laws or create a legal framework for the Minimum Support Price. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha deputed a 13-member contingent to the meeting with the Home Minister. Among them were Rakesh Tikait, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Uttar Pradesh) and Hannan Mollah, general secretary, AIKS..

The meeting lasted three hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on December 8. It made no headway as the government refused to repeal the three farm laws, which was the main demand of the farmers. Instead, the government offered to give written proposals to the farmer representatives on some of the demands and said that these would be sent to them by 11 a.m. on December 9. It is learnt that the government once again offered to amend the farm laws instead of a complete rollback.

Talking to the media, Hannan Mollah, general secretary of AIKS, said that nothing conclusive emerged from the meeting with Amit Shah. “They could have given these proposals they are talking about four months ago. If the proposal is for a repeal [of the farm laws], we will accept it. If not, we can’t accept the proposal,” he said, referring to the farm Bills that were legislated through an ordinance without consulting the stakeholders. He also indicated that farmer representatives would discuss the proposals as and when they come and a decision would be taken regarding further meetings with the government. The meeting that was scheduled for December 9 with the Agriculture Minister and other government representatives has now been called off. The stand-off continues.