UPDATED: February 1, 2021 08:37 IST
Farmers protesting against the Centre’s three new farm laws said they are in favour of a “respectful solution” but will not agree to anything “under pressure”. The statement was made by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks that the Centre is ready to suspend the farm laws for a period of 12-18 months.
The agitation at Delhi’s borders continues even as a team of forensic experts arrived in the national capital on Sunday to probe the violence that erupted during the farmers’ Republic Day Tractor Parade. At the same time, actor Deep Sidhu who has been accused of instigating the mob that stormed the Red Fort, broke down during a Facebook LIVE session while denying the allegations levelled against him.
Ghazipur Border Protest
Farmer leaders Rakesh and Naresh Tikait demanded that the government release the protesters to create a conducive environment for talks, even as Prime Minister Modi, during his monthly radio address, said that the country was saddened by the “insult” to the Tricolour on the Republic Day, referring to the violence at Red Fort during the farmers’ tractor parade.
As hundreds of farmers continued to converge at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border following a tearful Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait’s impassioned appeal on Thursday, the ripples spread deeper in western Uttar Pradesh where a mahapanchyat was held in Baghpat in support of the stir, the third in as many days in the key region.
Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal met Rakesh Tikait, joining several other leaders from the opposition parties who have visited the protest site to extend their support.
The farmers will honour the dignity of the prime minister, but are also committed to protecting their self-respect, the Tikait brothers who are leading the agitation asserted, even as they warned that the farm laws issue could cost the BJP dear electorally.
“They (Farmers) are free to vote anyone, we cannot ask them to vote for a particular party…if a party has hurt them, why would they bring it to power again?” Naresh Tikait said.
Both the leader said they were open to talks with the government to find a “middle path”. Naresh and Rakesh are sons of Mahendra Singh Tikait, once counted among the tallest farmer leaders of the country.
More tents came up at the UP gate protest site in Ghazipur on Sunday and many waited for hours to talk to Rakesh Tikait or click a selfie with him. Delhi’s Singhu border also saw more farmers from Punjab and Haryana joining the protest, even as some complained of poor internet connectivity and difficulties in getting water and food supplies.
Earlier, Congress’ UP president Ajay Kumar Lallu, Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary and Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Chautala had visited the protest site to extend support.
Tikait’s tears revive agitation
Despite an increasing number of barricades, thousands of farmers have been converging at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border following a tearful Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait’s impassioned appeal to protesters to bolster the stir.
The tide of the over two-month protest against the farm laws, which had lost its sheen after the violence in Delhi during the tractors parade on Republic day, appears to have regained momentum as is evident from the increased number of tents set up at the protest site.
Many protesters waited for hours to talk to Tikait or take a selfie with him as the farmer leader remained busy meeting his supporters and talking to the media.
A Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) member said Tikait has been sleeping only for around three hours a day for the last three days. “He had complained of blood pressure issues, but is doing fine now,” the member said.
Farmers, carrying tricolours and raising slogans, took out marches, while a group of youths gathered at a spot near the Delhi-Meerut expressway and danced to patriotic songs till the sun went down.
The scene was quite different just three days ago.
A day after the Republic Day violence in Delhi, when a section of farmers taking part in the tractor parade broke through barriers, clashed with police and stormed the Red Fort for a few hours, the farmer game it seemed to be over. Morale plummeted and many farmers returned home.
On Wednesday night, the atmosphere was tense at Ghazipur. The Ghaziabad administration issued an “ultimatum” to the protesters occupying a stretch of the Delhi-Meerut expressway to vacate as the January 26 clashes painted a not-so-peaceful picture of the peasant community.
As security presence at the site escalated and fears grew that the protesters would be forcibly evicted, an emotional Tikait broke down while talking to reporters.
A layer of barbed wire fencing was added to the existing multi-layered barricading at the protest site. But that couldn’t keep people from reaching the area where farmers have been camping since late November.
The farmers kept arriving with water-filled cans from their hometown for their beloved leader. According to a BKU member’s estimate, over 10,000 farmers have gathered at the UP Gate protest site on Sunday.
Mahapanchayat extends support to agitation
In Baghpat, a ‘sarv khap mahapanchayat’ took place at the Tehsil ground with farmers pouring in from nearby districts as well in tractor-trollies. It was the third ‘mahapanchayat’ of farmers in the region after a massive congregation in Muzaffarnagar on Friday and in Mathura on Saturday, both resolving to support the ongoing BKU-led protest.
BKU leader Rajendra Chaudhary told the crowd, “the movement has to be continued with full strength.”
Opposition parties attack Centre
The opposition parties are likely to raise the issue of farm laws vociferously in Parliament and have already stepped up attack on the government.
Several parties, including the Congress and the SAD, and media bodies on Sunday condemned the police action against two journalists who were picked up during the farmers’ protests at the Singhu border for allegedly misbehaving with police personnel. They said such crackdowns impinge on the media’s right to report freely and interferes with its right to freedom of expression. Freelance journalist Mandeep Punia and Dharmender Singh (with Online News India) were detained by Delhi Police last evening for allegedly misbehaving with personnel on duty.
While Singh was later released, the police arrested Punia on Sunday.
The Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India and the Press Association demanded Punia’s immediate release and said no journalist should be disturbed while carrying out their duties at any place.
Agriculture Minister responds to Pawar
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar expressed dismay over NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s tweets criticising the farm laws, saying they were a mix of “ignorance and misinformation” about the legislation, and hoped that the veteran leader will change his stand after knowing the “facts”.
In a series of tweets, Pawar had on Saturday said the new agriculture laws of the Union government will adversely impact the Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement and weaken the `Mandi’ system.
“Since he speaks with some experience and expertise on the issue, it was dismaying to see his tweets employ a mix of ignorance and misinformation on the agriculture reforms. Let me take this opportunity to present some facts,” Tomar said on Twitter and went on to stress that the “apprehensions” expressed by Pawar have no basis.
Why are farmers protesting?
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and parts of UP have been protesting at Delhi’s borders for over two months now, demanding a rollback of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The government has offered some concessions including keeping the new farm laws on hold for 1-1.5 years and the Supreme Court has set up a panel to look into the matter while keeping the contentious legislation in abeyance for two months.
However, the agitating farmer unions have rejected both and intensified their stir.