Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday attacked the Centre for the continued stalemate between the government and farmers over the three newly passed agriculture laws.

On Saturday, the farmers’ agitation at the borders of the national Capital entered its 17th day, as the protesters took over some toll plazas in Haryana and blocked the Delhi-Jaipur highway, amid heavy police deployment.

Citing a newspaper clipping about the death of 11 farmers during these protests, Gandhi tweeted in Hindi, “How many more deaths of our farmer brothers will it take to repeal the farm laws?”

Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday also criticised the Centre after multiple Cabinet ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders suggested involvement of the separatist Khalistani group in the protests, reported ANI.

“Centre is trying to defame agitation by calling it that of Khalistanis and political parties,” Badal said. “[It is] unfortunate that if one disagrees with them they call them anti-nationals. Ministers giving such statements must apologise publicly.”

He added that it was unfortunate that the Centre was trying to “stifle the voices of farmers”, instead of listening to them. “Why is Centre showing tyranny when the section for whom laws have been formed don’t want it,” Badal said.

Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, a member of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, also dismissed allegations of “anti-national elements” being involved in the agitation, ANI reported. “Central Intelligence should catch them,” he said. “If people of a banned organisation are present among us, put them behind bars. We haven’t found any such person here, if we do we will send them away.”

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Friday claimed that some “anti-social elements” were plotting to spoil the atmosphere of the farmers’ movement. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed there was evidence of a “sinister design” in the ongoing demonstrations against the farm laws, and that it was being overtaken by the “tukde tukde gang”, reported India Today. “Tukde-tukde gang” is a term used to target people the BJP and its supporters allege are out to balkanise India.

The BJP’s Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar have termed sections of the agitators as “Khalistanis” and “Maoists”. Another leader of the saffron party, Manoj Tiwari, has claimed, without citing evidence, that the “tukde-tukde gang” was trying to turn the demonstrations by farmers in Delhi into Shaheen Bagh-like protests. The term is often used by BJP and Hindutva leaders for individuals and groups, who they claim, have secessionist intentions.

Farm law protests

The Parliament had passed 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 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi for more than 15 days against the laws. The farmers fear the agricultural reforms will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, will lead to the deregulation of crop-pricing, deny them fair remuneration for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporations. The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies.

Opposition parties have also criticised the reforms, saying they would benefit big business and not farmers. They have also urged President Ram Nath Kovind to ask the government to accept farmers’ demands.