Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday criticised the Narendra Modi-led government’s new farm laws at his second rally in Punjab, and said that they took away freedom. Union ministers Hardeep Singh Puri and Smriti Irani, on the other hand, took a swipe at Gandhi over pictures that purportedly showed him sitting on cushioned seats on a tractor.

The Congress leader will hold a series of tractor rallies called “Kheti Bachao Yatra [save agriculture rally]” across Punjab to protest the controversial farm laws. Gandhi, who is on a three-day visit to Punjab and Haryana, launched a tractor rally on Sunday in support of protesting farmers.

Gandhi, at the rally in Sangur on Monday, questioned the Centre’s decision to introduce the laws hurriedly. “Why did the government feel the need to introduce the laws in the times of crisis?” Gandhi asked. “The government introduced the laws because it knew that if it destroyed the livelihoods of the farmers and labourers now, they would not be able to come out on the streets [to protest].”

The Congress leader added that the new farm laws will make farmers helpless. “The Modi government wants to make the farmer and labourer helpless,” he said. “They will be forced to become slaves to the industrialists.”

“Like he [Modi] finished small shopkeepers and small medium businesses with GST [Goods and Services Tax] and demonetisation, he is finishing farmers and labourers the same way and slashing your throats with these three laws,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.

The Congress leader added that the new farm laws were against the entire country. “These three laws take away our freedom and these are not only against the farmers but against the whole country,” he said. “If Adani and Ambani get hold of the agricultural system, every family will have to pay twice the amount of money for food.”

Gandhi on Sunday said farmers would not be protesting if they were happy with the new farm laws.

“Today if a farmer has a problem in the mandi then he can put his point across or approach another businessman, but tomorrow our farmers will have Adani on one side and Ambani on the other.” 

— Rahul Gandhi

BJP hits back

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders criticised Gandhi over photos that showed him sitting on cushioned seats on a tractor.

“The ‘protest’ launched by Congress is a political protest by those whose vested interests are hurt by the farm bills,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted. “Cushioned sofas on tractors is not a protest. It is ‘Protest Tourism’ to misguide our farmers who are educated and intelligent to see through this facade.”

Union Minister Smriti Irani called Gandhi a “VIP kisan [VIP farmer]”. “He is someone who uses a sofa to sit on a tractor,” she said, according to PTI. “A VIP kisan like him can never support a system which is meant to free small and marginal farmers from the clutches of middlemen.

Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar said that he will not allow Gandhi to come to his state with a procession from Punjab, ANI reported. “He can do [a] rally with the people here,” Khattar said.

Kisan Mahasangh calls laws ‘death warrant’ for farmers

The Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh on Monday joined the protest against the farm laws, PTI reported. The group’s President Shiv Kumar Sharma said the laws were “death warrants” for farmers as they benefited only the corporates and big traders.

“These laws should have a provision that if any trader purchases agriculture produce from farmers below the MSP [Minimum Support Price] then the difference between the MSP and the actual rate should be paid by that trader as a fine,” he added. Sharma demanded the cancellation of the licenses of traders who buy crops from farmers below MSP.

Farm laws

The three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – passed on June 5, were converted into law by the Parliament in the third week on September, amid vehement protests.

The legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.