Farmers in Punjab continued their “rail roko” (block the trains) agitation in many parts of Punjab on Saturday, protesting against the farm bills passed in Parliament last week, PTI reported. The movement of trains in the state remained suspended due to the agitation. At least 28 passenger trains were cancelled.
Sarwan Singh Pandher, state secretary of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, had translated the bills into Punjabi for the farmers. He said that Opposition parties had not been instigating them, as alleged by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre, NDTV reported.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is blaming the opposition for instigating us,” Pandher said. “This is not correct. We have read the ordinances. The corporates have pushed PM Modi to introduce these changes. We are getting support from farmers across the country; this is a very big people’s movement. He will have to repeal these bills, he will not be able to pull off these changes on ground.”
Pandher also said that his organisation would not allow any political party to share the stage with them during the protests.
Modi had claimed that the National Democratic Alliance government has created history with its announcement of minimum support price for farmers. Modi accused the Opposition of lying to the farmers and “shooting from their shoulders”.
Reacting to farmers’ protest against the Centre’s agriculture bills, Modi said, “In the name of farmers and labourers, governments were formed many times in the country, but what did they get? Just a tangled web of promises and laws, a trap that neither the farmer nor the labourer could understand.”
In Amritsar, farmers squatted on the Amritsar-Delhi rail route and went shirtless in protest. “Farmers have taken off their ‘kurtas’ and shirts to make the government hear our voice,” Pandher said.
Demonstrations also took place in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala and Karnataka as part of the “Bharat Bandh” call given by farmer unions across the country. Agitating farmers shouted slogans against the BJP-led central government and demanded the repeal of the bills.
Farmers organised under the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) blocked rail tracks in nine districts of Punjab. Bharatiya Kisan Union General Secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan said the rail tracks were blocked at Mansa, Barnala, Nabha, Chhahjli, Rampura, Ajitwal, Kotkapura, Gidderbaha, and Jalalabad.
Over 265 groups affiliated with the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and around 100 non-affiliated groups took part in Friday’s protests across the country, according to NDTV.
Congress runs social media campaign
Meanwhile, the Congress on Saturday ran a social media campaign – Speak up for farmers – with its leader Rahul Gandhi demanding the bills be withdrawn and a guarantee given to farmers on the Minimum Support Price, PTI reported.
The MSP is the rate at which the government purchases crops from farmers and is based on a calculation of at least one and a half times the cost of production. On Monday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had told the Lok Sabha that the Cabinet has approved MSP hikes for six crops, ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 300.
“First demonetisation, then GST [Goods and Services Tax], then you were not given a single rupee at the time of coronavirus, attempt was being made to kill you, you are being made a slave of corporates, and now these three deadly bills,” Gandhi told farmers in his video message. “We are standing with you and together we will stop these bills.”
Many Congress leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi, KC Venugopal, P Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, Salman Khurshid, Tariq Anwar, Sachin Pilot and Shashi Tharoor posted videos on social media calling for the withdrawal of the bills.
“No provision of MSP in the bills, contract farming and mandi system being ended is like hitting the hard work of the farmers with an axe,” Priyanka Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi. “Today, the whole of India is united against this injustice.”
Chidambaram said that the Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act is a “safety net” for farmers. “The MSP is a price signal & the market takes a signal from MSP,” he said. “These two bills will eliminate MSP as a price signal & in the course of time the APMCs will wither & vanish.”
Meanwhile, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, his brother Tej Pratap Yadav and Jan Adhikar Party leader Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav were booked on Friday for organising rallies to protest the farm bills. The trio were booked along with 150 others. A first information report was lodged at the Kotwali police station on the basis of a complaint by the magistrate deputed to look into the matter.
The controversial legislations
Three controversial Bills on agriculture reforms are set to become law after being passed by the Rajya Sabha on September 20 in the middle of utter pandemonium. The three bills are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The last one was also approved by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
Critics say that these new agricultural policies will lead to farmers losing out on guaranteed purchase prices for their crops, to the benefit of large corporations.