Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday criticised the Centre for trying to defame the farmers’ protests against the government’s agricultural laws and said that labelling the protestors anti-national was “not our culture”, India Today reported.

“One thing you [the government] need to understand is that you are doing injustice to our farmers and then you call them anti-national,” he said. “This is not our culture. Instead of talking to our farmers, BJP is calling them Pakistani, anti-national.”

“Farmers are spending days and nights in such cold weather, sleeping on road,” he was quoted as saying by the new channel. “BJP leaders should decide who farmers are – are they Leftist, Pakistani, or they have come from China.” The Maharashtra chief minister also claimed that people who label farmers terrorists were not entitled to be called human.

The farmers, meanwhile, began a hunger strike as their agitation entered the 19th day. They have also planned protests at district headquarters across the country.

Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have sought to discredit the farmers’ agitation by linking it to extremist elements and even Pakistan and China. Union minister Raosaheb Danve had said last week that the farmers’ protest was a conspiracy hatched by the two countries.

On December 1, Union minister VK Singh had said that the protestors against the Centre’s agricultural laws near Delhi “did not appear to be farmers in pictures”.

Before that, BJP’s Information Technology Cell head Amit Malviya had alleged that the farmers’ protest had “Khalistani and Maoist” links. He, however, did not provide any evidence to support his claim.

Last month, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had claimed that his government had “inputs” on presence of Khalistani separatists in the ongoing farmers’ agitation. His government has also been heavily criticised for using water cannons and tear gas on the farmers marching to Delhi.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi. 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.

On December 9, they had rejected the Centre’s written proposal on the amendments it was willing to make to the three agriculture laws, and threatened to intensify their protests.

Follow today’s live updates on the farmers’ protest.

‘Anti-Modi’ elements participating in protest, claims agriculture minister

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Monday claimed that people opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi were part of the protests against the Centre’s farm laws and blamed them for not letting the farmers’ unions reach a unanimous decision. He made the remark during an interview with Hindustan Times’ sister publication Hindustan.

Tomar said that people who believed in the Left ideology were influencing the protests. “The government has successfully initiated dialogue but the farmers’ union have not been able to reach at a unanimous decision,” he was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times. “The news which has emerged in the last two days are astounding. Those who believe in the Left ideology are influencing these protests.”

The agriculture minister added: “Attempts are being made to release traitors. This is condemnable and these elements are stopping the movement from arriving at a verdict. And these elements are not farmers, but those who are against Modi [Prime Minister Narendra Modi].”

Tomar said that only farmers from Punjab and Haryana were holding protests. “The mandi systems in Punjab and Haryana are very strong and decentralised and farmers in these states fear that the laws will alter them,” he said, according to Hindustan Times. “Farmers in other states have welcomed the laws.”

Tomar again repeated the Centre’s stand that the new laws would benefit the farmers. “The government intends for the farmers to get maximum price for their produce and enable them to buy licenses in the market, eliminating the role of middlemen,” Tomar said.