Interview: Sarwan Singh Pandher

Sarwan Singh Pandher: ‘The government has to first create an environment conducive to talks’

Print edition : March 12, 2021

Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary, Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, Punjab. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Interview with Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary, Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, Punjab.

One of the organisations that participated in the kisan parade of January 26 was the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee. Like the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), it enjoys wide support among farmers and agricultural workers in Punjab.

On January 29, at around noon, as KMSC volunteers worked in langars (community kitchens) at the Singhu protest site area, an unruly mob gained access to an area close to the main podium of the organisation with the police in tow and pelted stones at them and shouted incendiary slogans. Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the KMSC, told Frontline that the attack was engineered by sections affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. It was an attempt, he said, to provoke farmers and communalise the protest. He said several volunteers were injured and a 22-year-old who was taken away by the police had acted out of self-defence when the mob began attacking the women in the community kitchens. The police did nothing when the mob attacked. He said that talks were the only way out, but the government should first normalise the situation before any talks could take place. Excerpts:

The government has been repeatedly suggesting the formation of a smaller committee to discuss the repeal of the laws and other demands.

We do not think there is any use of any committee. The government has to first create an environment conducive to talks. It has to normalise the situation first. It has to release all the 120 farmers who have been arrested. Cases have been filed against all the farmer leaders under the Damage to Public Property Act, the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act. The government is also answerable to Parliament as to why there is such a prolonged Internet shutdown in all the protest points. When they needed to propagate their idea against us, post-January 26, Internet was working. And now when we want to express ourselves, we cannot do so. The Internet shutdown is inconveniencing everyone, including students and mediapersons. The Central government is on the back foot. It is cracking down on people who are tweeting in favour of the protests but not taking action against the goons who attacked our morcha. Many international celebrities are supporting our struggle. There is nothing wrong in it. The fact that the government is saying it is an internal matter shows the kind of pressure it is facing in a diplomatic sense. The protest will continue until our demands are met. The Union Agriculture Minister has been trying hard to sell the failed experiments in agriculture to the Indian farmer. If private participation will indeed double the income of farmers, why is it in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, which are BJP-governed States, that traders are buying grain at Rs.7-8 per quintal less than the MSP and selling it in the mandis of Punjab?

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Access to your protest point area has been barricaded. Even mediapersons cannot reach there directly.

It is an open jail for the producers of this country. Even on international borders, such kind of barricading is not done. The rioters threw petrol bombs at us. To date, there has been no investigation of their role. They have been identified by several people but not one of them has been arrested. We have named them in our complaint but to no avail. The police took away an independent journalist, Mandeep Punia, because he was a witness to the entire incident.

So are you saying it was a totally one-sided attack on January 29?

They used the tricolor to attack us, and even the tents of the police. Why isn’t the Prime Minister saying anything about this? Isn’t that disrespecting the national flag? The rioters attacked the women’s camp and destroyed equipment like washing machines. The police fired tear-gas shells at us and not at the rioters.

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Were the attackers local people as is being stated?

No, they were not. They looked like hired thugs. Some of them were in police uniform as well. They used the events of January 26 as an excuse. Because of the barricading, everyone is getting affected, including the media, the local people. The locals are supporting us and helping us. We would not have lasted so long if it were not for the support of the people of Haryana.

The existing barricades were not used to prevent the mob from entering the area. The police are harassing us with these new barricades. Sanitation is a new challenge now. There is a threat of disease because of the restrictions on movement of sanitation workers and sewage pumps. The toilets are overflowing.

There is an impression that your outfit is not part of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha.

We are together. It is only that we have a different stage. We are fully united on the demand to repeal the farm laws and a legal guarantee for the minimum support price. We also were part of the nationwide February 6 chakka jam programme. But it is not just Punjab and Haryana any more; farmers across the country are together on the issue of the repeal of the farm laws. Our struggle is about saving Indian agriculture.

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