Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday severely criticised the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana for using tear gas and water canons against farmers to stop their protest march to Delhi against the Centre’s agricultural laws, calling the attempt “Punjab’s 26/11”.
Badal’s “26/11” remark was in reference to the 20008 Mumbai terror attacks. On November 26, 2008, ten terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba took a sea route from Pakistan to Mumbai and carried out a dozen coordinated shooting and bombing attacks at various major landmarks across the city. Over 160 people were killed and more than 300 injured in the attacks that lasted four days, and needed the National Security Guards and the Anti-Terrorist Squad to intervene.
Dramatic scenes unfolded at the Delhi-Haryana border as farmers clashed with the police, undeterred by the winter chill, rain, police barricades, tear gas and water cannons. They even threw the barricades set up by the police into a river while trying to cross a narrow bridge.
Badal, whose party pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in September over the controversial legislation, said people are witnessing an end to the right to democratic protest with the police action. “Akali Dali condemns the Haryana government and the Centre for choosing to repress the peaceful farmer movement,” he tweeted. “The battle for the rights of Punjab farmers cannot be throttled by using water cannons against them. Our resolve will only strengthen further.”
In a series of tweets, Badal questioned if it was “forbidden” to go to Delhi and said the Central government is treating Punjab as if it were not a part of India. “Today Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji has stopped farmers from proceeding to Delhi in same manner Bhajan Lal stopped Punjabi’s in 1982 on orders of Gandhi family,” he tweeted. “This is dictator raj. A second economic blockade imposed on Punjab. It seems the powers that be don’t consider Punjab part of the country.”
He said farmers in Haryana were disturbed by the new agriculture laws, and the Khattar government should have joined the protests instead of using force to stop them from marching ahead. “I appeal to all Akali workers to take part in the protest wholeheartedly,” he tweeted. “They should extend all possible help to the agitation. We have also dispatched medical vans and teams to aid farmers besides organising ‘langars’. I appeal to all farmers to unite as one in this fight.”
The Akali Dal president urged Modi to revoke the three farm laws and “not to stand on ego and false pride”. He said the Centre’s decision is not acceptable by the farmers and has hurt their sentiments. “We should do our utmost to ensure the future of our ‘annadaata’ is secure,” Badal wrote.
Back-and-forth between Punjab and Haryana CM’s
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also hit out at the BJP government, saying the use of “brute force” against the farmers is “totally undemocratic and unconstitutional”. A political tussle also erupted between Singh and his Haryana counterpart.
Singh flagged the “irony” of the police action against protestors when India celebrated its Constitution Day. Meanwhile, Khattar accused him of inciting the farmers. “I’ve said it earlier and I’m saying it again, I’ll leave politics if there’ll be any trouble on the MSP [minimum support price] – therefore, please stop inciting innocent farmers,” Khattar tweeted.
The Punjab chief minister in his response to Khattar said that the protesting farmers have to be convinced about the Minimum Support Price system, and not him.
Farmers and traders have also vehemently opposed the new laws, alleging the government wants to discontinue the minimum support price regime in the name of reforms. They fear that the bills will leave them at the mercy of corporate powers. The government has maintained that farm laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
Haryana Congress leaders condemn police action
Meanwhile, Haryana Congress leaders also castigated the BJP-led government in the state and said the saffron party should exercise restraint and hold talks with the farmers, PTI reported.
Senior Congress leader and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the farmers have the right to protest peacefully and by using water cannons and tear gas to stop their march, the state government is trying to muzzle their voice. “When the three farm laws were being framed, I had said that the Centre should bring a fourth law making it a punishable offence if anyone makes a crop purchase below the Minimum Support Price,” Hooda, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, said.
Haryana Congress chief Kumari Selja alleged that the Centre has tried to break the backbone of the farmers by enacting the “anti-agriculture black laws”. She alleged the Narendra Modi government has always “tricked” the farmers, and this time is not even letting them voice their concerns.
“Now, when the farmers are peacefully protesting against these laws, they are not being allowed to do that either,” Selja said. “They are putting them in jails, using water cannons and tear gas on them.”
Congress chief spokesperson and former Haryana Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala said the farmers have the “full support” of the party.