Punjab farmers’ unions on Sunday rejected Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s offer to relocate themselves to a government-designated area in Burari area of Delhi, saying they would press on with their protest against the new agricultural legislations near the city’s borders, The Indian Express reported.
A group of farmers gathered at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana will address a press conference at 4 pm. Swaraj India President Yogendra Yadav, who is part of the seven-member Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of over three dozen farmer organisations, will also be present.
Hundred of thousands of farmers have been demonstrating in and around the Capital against the laws, which they fear will reduce their earnings and give more power to corporations. The protestors – who braved tear gas, water cannons and baton charges on their way – say they would not return to their homes until their demands were met.
On Saturday, Shah had said that the Centre is willing to hold talks with farmers’ groups if they are prepared to shift to the designated protest site at the Nirankari Samagram Ground in Burari area of North West Delhi. The home minister’s statement is the highest official response to the protestors so far, and the first to agree to discussions before the scheduled talks on December 3.
While the home minister had appealed to all farmers unions, he had personally called three farmer leaders – Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Jagjit Singh Dallewal, president of Bharti Kisan Union( Sidhupur) and Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of BKU (Rajewal).
But the farmers’ leaders have rejected Shah’s conditional offer. They say they want to protest at the Jantar Mantar in Central Delhi, which is situated nearly 20 kms away from Burari.
“We do understand that blocking the borders is causing inconvenience to masses, but we are not ready to move to Burari, the Union home minister should allow us to protest at Jantar Mantar where we wanted to protest earlier,” Urgahan told The Indian Express. “But [the] Delhi police had rejected the application of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. Jantar Mantar is a place where everyone lodges their protest and why can’t we farmers’ do the same?”
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Ugrahan added that Surjit Kumar Jyani, chairperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s eight-member panel, formed to hold talks with Punjab farmers, had proposed that a five-member team of their union can talk with Shah in person. “I refused straight away as we are not the only union protesting for the cause,” the leader said.
Besides, different unions are protesting at different sites, Ugrahan added. “Unless everyone is called for a meeting, we will not pursue any meeting,” he said.
Jagmohan Singh Patiala, working committee member of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, too, said that they would not move to Burari from the border areas “at any cost”.
The farmers began their march to the Capital on Thursday to pressure the central government to abolish the farm laws. However, they were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear near the boundaries of Delhi.
The authorities had taken extraordinary measures to set up blockades on highways – parking buses, trucks and other large vehicles. At some places, they even dug up trenches to obstruct farmers, many of whom camped on highways for the night in chilling temperatures.
They resumed their march early Friday, but were again blocked by police at the national Capital’s fringes. This led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to push them back. After hours of demonstrations, the Delhi Police, by evening, allowed them to enter into the city, on the condition that they concentrate their protests to a designated spot.
Reconsider farm laws, say Opposition leaders
Meanwhile, the Congress on Sunday referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments about the farm laws in his monthly radio address Mann ki Baat and questioned the point of talks if he is defending them.
“The prime minister’s obduracy, arrogance and rigidity in dealing with 62 crore farmers and farm labourers of India is writ large by his insistence today in the Mann ki Baat that the three anti-farmer, anti-agricultre laws, forcibly passed in an illegal and unconstitutional manner, by Parliament, are correct,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said. “For the prime minister to say that these three laws are absolutely right when lakhs and lakhs of farmers are sitting around Delhi agitating, demanding their withdrawal, shows that the Modi government is drunk with power.”
The party demanded immediate suspension of the three farm laws and the withdrawal of the 12,000 first information reports filed against farmers. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi should talk to the farmers,” Surjewala said. “Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar should apologise for calling farmers terrorists. So should BJP spokesperson Amit Malviya for calling them ‘Khalistanis’.”
Surjewala also castigated Shah for attending a political event in Hyderabad for the municipal elections, but not reaching out to farmers immediately.
“If the home minister of India has time to travel 1,200 km to Hyderabad to attend a public meeting, why does Amit Shah does not have the time to go 15 km to the borders of Delhi and talk to the agitating farmers, why is it that the agriculture minister has taken out a date of December 3 before which no conversation can be held, have they consulted an astrologer for this purpose,” the Congress leader asked.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the protesting famers are being treated like “terrorists”, according to PTI. “The government should consider the demands of farmers sympathetically,” he added.
Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati also asked the central government to reconsider its farm laws.
“Farmers across the country are furious and agitated over the three agriculture-related laws that the central government recently brought in,” she tweeted. “Keeping this in view, it would be better if the Union government does a rethink on these laws that were legislated without the farmers’ consent.”
Senior Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh, Digvijaya Singh, also urged the Centre to rethink its position.
“If Modi ji had discussed with the farmers before bring in the anti-farmers laws, why would such a situation have arisen?” he asked. “Modi ji must withdraw all three anti-farmer laws and after discussing with the farmers send them to a parliamentary committee for a relook.”