The number of protesting farmers at the protest points around Delhi swells even as the unions reject another set of eight proposals put forward by the government

Published : December 22, 2020 17:11 IST

The scene at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border after farmers blockaded the Meerut Expressway, on December 22. Photo: SANDEEP SAXENA

On December 20, Vivek Agrawal, Joint Secretary in the Agriculture Ministry, sent a letter to the farmer organisations inviting them for consultations. The letter also talked about the various steps the government had taken to resolve the farmers’ issues. It projected the government in a good light and the farmers as unrelenting and obdurate. It enclosed a tedious list of all the dates on which consultations had been held, and hinted that it was the farmers who were obstructionist whereas the government was all-accommodating and sympathetic. Predictably, the farmers’ unions responded very strongly to the letter the next day.

The government letter was in response to an email sent by Darshan Pal, president of the Krantikaari Kisan Union, Punjab, on December 16. Darshan Pal is a member of the 40-member farmers’ committee constituted by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha that has been meeting the government. In his letter, he had urged the government not to defame the farmers’ protest and desist from engaging in parallel talks with other farmer groups. That the joint committee of farmer groups had rejected both the verbal proposals of the government on December 5 and the written assurances based on those verbal proposals on December 9. “Is this your own opinion or that of all organisations is not clear,” wrote the Joint Secretary in his letter.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee (AIKSCC), which represents the 500-odd farmer organisations, sent a strong response to the Joint Secretary’s letter, reiterating the deleterious consequences of the farm laws. It said that the AIKSCC had objected to the three farm ordinances when they were promulgated in June itself. Letters were sent in July, August, September, October and November, urging the government not to pass the farm laws. “Despite our repeated objections, you enacted the farm laws in September,” stated the AIKSCC letter. “All the problems of the farmers are related to the very fundamentals of the farm laws which give a legal framework for corporates and foreign companies to enter every aspect related to agriculture, which, among other things, will affect our food security.... these laws will snatch the livelihoods Dalits, Adivasis, fisher folk, tenant farmers, agricultural workers,” it said.

The letter accused the government of repeatedly skirting farmers’ demand for repeal of the farm laws and withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The AIKSCC letter said: “You want to reduce the issue to a few points which will not be acceptable to us. Neither is your approach soft or open minded as claimed. You are only spreading misinformation among ordinary people about the main demands of the farmers and using the media to spread disinformation as well.”

The government, the letter said, far from being “open minded”, had prevented farmers from converging at the Ram Lila grounds for a meeting by stopping them at the borders of Delhi. Farmers were lathi-charged, arrested and beaten up, the AIKSCC said. Farmers in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana were not allowed to join the protests and were intimidated by the governments in those States.

Hannan Mollah, general secretary and working committee member of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), told Frontline that the government did not mention a specific agenda in its letter dated December 20. The letter had a list of eight proposals that had already been rejected by the farmers, he said.

Mehkaar Nagar, spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu Pratap Singh faction), told Frontline that the government should “talk” to the farmers and not defame them. “Every time they say, the laws won’t be repealed. This is not an indication of an open mind. In West Bengal, one BJP worker dies and the government speaks for them. Here, 32 farmers have died. They have not uttered a word,” he said.

On December 26, it will be a full month since the protest began, but there is little sign of fatigue among the farmers. At the Shahjahanpur, on the Haryana-Rajasthan border, every day new batches of farmers arrive. The latest one to arrive is from Gujarat. A “vehicle morcha” of 2,500 farmers from Maharashtra is expected to reach on December 24. The AIKS is leading the protest in the State.

Amra Ram, four-time Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator and former president of the AIKS, said that people from neighbouring villages were offering lots of help in kind. “We started late as local elections were on in Rajasthan. The protest here began on December 13, but within days the crowds have swelled. We had one langar, or community kitchen, in the beginning but now we have three more. The caravan of trolley-tractors is increasing day by day. Farmers are undeterred by the cold as the temperature in Churu and Sikar districts in Rajasthan falls below zero degrees. Its 2.4 degrees Celsius here,” he said. The relay hunger strike, he said, would continue.

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