The National Investigating Agency has summoned Baldev Singh Sirsa, a farmers’ union head, for questioning on January 17, in connection with a case registered against a leader of the banned outfit Sikhs for Justice, reported The Indian Express on Saturday. Sirsa is the president of Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society, one of the unions protesting against the Centre’s farm laws.
Sirsa said that the government was trying to disrupt the farmers’ protest. “First, the government tried to derail the farmer agitation through the Supreme Court, now it is using the NIA,” he said.
The farmers’ leader, who is one of the representatives in the talks over the farm laws with the Centre, said that the government was afraid of the tractor rally scheduled for Republic Day on January 26, according to the Hindustan Times. “However, we will continue our struggle for the repeal of the laws,” he said.
The case in connection with which Sirsa has been summoned pertains to the banned outfit’s chief Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, who has been charged for an alleged conspiracy to create an “atmosphere of fear and lawlessness and to cause disaffection in people and to incite them towards rising in rebellion against the Government of India”.
Besides Sirsa, several others, including activists, have been summoned for questioning. The summons were issued for answering questions related to Pannu.
“Many people who are associated with the farmers’ agitation have been sent these summons,” the farmers’ leaders said. “It is to terrorise those working for farmers. But we are not going to be affected by this. We will not bend.” Sirsa claimed that the government was intent on defaming the farm law protests.
Earlier in the day, Sirsa staged a protest outside a mall in Amritsar along with his supporters to oppose the NIA summons. Several Sikh activists who also received the notices joined him.
The NIA’s first information report in the case accuses “Sikhs For Justice, an ‘Unlawful Association’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and other Khalistani terrorist outfits” of entering into a conspiracy.
The FIR says that “huge funds are being collected abroad for on-ground campaigns and propaganda against the Government of India including staging demonstrations outside Indian missions in countries like the USA [United States of America], UK [United Kingdom], Canada, Germany and so forth”.
It says that Sikhs for Justice leadership has planned large-scale disruptive activities intended to damage government and private property and also disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of the community of India.
On Tuesday, Attorney General KK Venugopal had told the Supreme Court that Khalistani separatists have infiltrated the farmers’ protest. The court had then asked the attorney general to file an affidavit on the claims.
Various Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have also claimed that Khalistani separatists had infiltrated the protests. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had on November 28 claimed that his government has “inputs” on the presence of separatists in the farmers’ agitation. Later on November 30, BJP’s Information Technology Cell head Amit Malviya had also claimed that the farmers’ protests have “Khalistani and Maoist” links. None of them, however, had provided any evidence to support their claims.
The farm law protests
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi for 51 days against the laws now, withstanding temperatures dropping to two to three degrees Celsius.
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. The law passed in September are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and open up the market, the government has claimed.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had put a hold on the implementation of the laws until further orders and formed a committee to resolve the deadlock between the Centre and farmers’ union. However, farmers have refused to appear before the panel, saying that all the members have supported the laws in the past.