Thousands of farmers from across the country reached Parliament Street on Friday, a day after they had converged at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan for the Kisan Mukti March. Their demands include higher minimum support prices and the implementation of the MS Swaminathan Commission report.

Addressing the farmers during the protest, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had failed to fulfil his promise of increasing the minimum support prices of crops and giving bonuses to farmers. “Look at the situation right now, empty speeches are being given and nothing else,” he said.

If the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government can waive businessmen’s debts worth Rs 3.5 lakh crore, “it is also possible to waive the loans of our farmers”, Gandhi said. “The farmers are demanding their rights, they are not asking for gifts,” he said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also addressed the farmers during the protest, and said Modi had “stabbed the farmers in the back” by not keeping his promises. “Farmers are not begging, they want what is rightfully due to them,” he said, according to The Indian Express. National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah also spoke at Parliament Street.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury shared a video of the march on Twitter, calling the Narendra Modi government the “most anti-farmer ever”. “They have time for fixing their big business cronies’ problems,” Yechury said. “Just a deafening silence on farmers. The new govt must implement proper policies that enable our Kisans to recover from the crisis.”

Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda said the government should look at improving the “Ease of Doing Agriculture” along with the “Ease of Doing Business”. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said it was “high time that the Parliament debates the ongoing agrarian crisis and comes up with solutions to deal [with] the fundamental problems facing our farmers”.

BJP leader and Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh defended the Modi government, citing the decision to increase the minimum support price for rabi crops. He claimed that the Congress did not do anything for farmers while it was in power at the Centre. “The Congress has remembered the farmers today,” Singh said in a series of tweets. He said the previous Congress-led government had neglected the agricultural sector, while the current administration is striving towards doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022.

Opposition leaders including Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury expressed their solidarity with the protesting farmers (Photo credit: IANS)

Farmers’ march

The farmers had started their march on Friday morning from Ramlila Maidan, where they had gathered the day before. They stopped at Jantar Mantar and then converged near Parliament Street police station after the police denied them permission to march to Parliament, PTI reported. More than 3,500 police personnel were deployed on the route of the march.

New Delhi Deputy Commissioner of Police Madhur Verma said multiple rounds of talks were held with the farmers’ representatives, ANI reported. He added that the police permitted them to organise the rally from Ramlila Maidan to Jantar Mantar under certain conditions.

The protest has been organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a coalition of 200 farmer groups from across India. Their demands include a joint session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian distress and two Bills tabled in the Lok Sabha and better minimum support prices.

The farmers who gathered in New Delhi on Thursday include those from Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha. On Thursday, as they gathered at Ramlila Maidan, they shouted slogans such as “Ayodhya nahi, karz maafi chahiye [We don’t need Ayodhya, need debt waiver]”, reported The Indian Express.

“We have not come here to sleep,” Kartar Singh, a sugarcane farmer from Uttar Pradesh’s Sambal district, told PTI. “Farmers have converged in Delhi to remind the Union government that the party leading it had made promises of waiving off loans in its manifesto. It’s been four and a half years since they came to power.”

Atul Anjaan, a leader of one of the farmers’ groups, said five gurdwaras in Delhi had offered to let farmers stay for the night on Thursday, reported NDTV. However, most farmers preferred to spend the night at Ramlila Maidan in tents, he added.

“The politicians are only interested in mandir [temple] and masjids,” Rakesh Chaudhary, a farmer leader from Uttar Pradesh, told the Hindustan Times. “Our mandirs are our livestock and our crops. The new season of sugarcane farming has started and we are yet to get prices of previous crop.”

More than 600 volunteers of Nation for Farmers and students of universities marched along with the farmers on Thursday.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee had earlier claimed that this was “one of the largest congregations of farmers” in Delhi in recent times. “We are expecting a gathering of 35,000-40,000 people to march towards Parliament Street on Friday morning,” the Hindustan Times had quoted Vijoo Krishnan, a member of a body affiliated to the committee, as saying.

This is the second major protest by farmers in the national Capital in as many months. On October 2, seven policemen were injured as security forces used water cannons and fired tear gas shells to stop farmers from entering the national Capital. The protests were called off the following day.