Farmers' protests: Will block 5 entry points into Delhi, won't shift to 'open jail' Burari ground, say farmers after meeting
Addressing reporters after a meeting to deliberate how to engage in talks with the Centre, farmer union leaders demanded that the Centre repeal the three new farm laws and that MSP be guaranteed
After days of staging a protest at Delhi's Singhu and Tikri borders, farm leaders on Sunday demanded that the Centre must repeal the three new farm laws as they are "anti-farmer and pro-corporate", and that MSP should be guaranteed.
Addressing reporters after a meeting to deliberate how to engage in talks with the Centre, farmer union leaders rejected the Centre's offer to move to Delhi's Burari ground and said that they will block five main entry points into the National Capital, as part of their protest.
After the meeting, Surjeet Phul, president of BKU Krantikari was quoted as saying, "We've decided that we'll never go to Burari Park as we got proof that it's an open jail. Delhi Police told Uttarakhand Farmer Association President that they'll take them to Jantar Mantar but instead locked them at Burari Park."
He added, "Instead of going to open jail in Burari, we've decided that we will gherao Delhi by blocking 5 main entry points to Delhi. We've got 4 months ration with us, so nothing to worry. Our Operations Committee will decide everything."
The Times of India also quoted farmer union leaders as saying that talks (on the contentious farm laws) have been "futile so far".
According to the report, Phul further said, "We've decided that we won't allow any political party leader to speak on our stage, be it Congress, BJP, AAP or other parties. Our committee will allow other organisations, who are supporting us, to speak if they follow our rules."
Additionally, PTI quoted Gurnam Singh Chadhoni, Haryana unit president for the Bhartiya Kisan Union as saying, "We do not accept the condition of their (govt) proposal. We are ready to talk but will not accept any condition now."
Darshan Pal, Punjab president of Krantikari Kisan Union, added, "The government has invited us to talk with conditions. The environment should be created for a conversation. We will not talk if there are any conditions".
"If the government is serious about addressing the demands of the farmers, it should stop laying down conditions, should stop assuming that the dialogue can be about an explanation to farmers about the benefits of the Acts," said a representative of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of farmers' groups.
Joginder Singh, president of Bhartiya Kisan Ektagrah, "We are sitting at the borders. Our demand is that the government take back the farm laws and we will not accept anything less than that".
With many roads and entry points being blocked after three consecutive days of a sit-in protest, Union home minister Amit Shah on Saturday addressed the issue and asked the farmers to shift to the Burari ground. He added that the Centre was "ready to hold discussions" with them as soon as they move to the designated place.
A delegation of the farmers has been invited for a discussion on 3 December, he said, adding that now that some of their unions have demanded that talks be held immediately, the Central Government is ready to do so as soon as the protesters shift to the ground in Burari.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Shah said the new farm laws were "meant for the welfare of farmers" and called their agitation apolitical.
Speaking to reporters, he said, "The new farm laws are meant for the welfare of farmers. After a long time, the farmer is going to come out of a locked system. Whoever wants to oppose it politically let them do it. I have never said the farmers' protest is political and would never say (that it is political)."
Thousands of farmers continued their protest against the Centre's farm laws on Sunday, after camping overnight at Delhi's Singhu and Tikri borders.
Farmers who had reached Nirankarai Samagam Ground in Burari on Saturday also continued their protest there.
The number of protesting farmers doubled on Saturday as more joined from states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Around 500 organisations are part of the protest at Delhi's borders.
"There is a crucial meeting today to decide future course of action. We will stay put till then and decide accordingly. In any situation, we will not call off the protest till our demands are met," Brij Singh, one of the farmers at Singhu border had told PTI on Sunday morning.
"We will discuss on how to engage in talks with the Centre. We are ready for talks with the centre only if they invite us for the same," Ruldu Singh, state president of Punjab Kisan Union was quoted as saying by NDTV.
Despite Shah's appeal to move to the designated ground on Saturday, farmers decided to stay put at the Singhu and Tikri borders, demanding to be allowed to protest at Jantar Mantar or to gather at the Ramlila ground instead.
NDTV quoted a farm leader as saying, "We will not move from here (Singhu Border) and continue our fight. Burari protest ground is more like a jail. Thousands of farmers have come from Punjab and Haryana to join the protest. We will not return home."
"Protests happen at Ramlila ground, then why should we go to Nirankari Bhawan, a private facility? We will stay put here today," Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait was quoted as saying by ANI.
However, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who has extended support to the protesting farmers since before the 'Delhi Chalo' march began, urged the farmers to accept Shah's appeal to shift to the designated place of protest.
He also termed Shah's offer to hold discussions at the earliest, as the "best in the interest of the farming community" and the nation at large.
The farmers have come prepared for a long haul, their vehicles loaded with rations, utensils, quilts and blankets for the cold and equipped with even charging points for their phones.
Raising slogans against the government, the farmers staged protests amid heavy police presence on the Delhi borders. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) provided food to the agitating farmers.
"In any situation, we will not call off the protest till our demands are met," Brij Singh, one of the farmers at Singhu border, said.
Gaurav Sharma, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Outer North), said they are allowing vehicles carrying food and other necessities for farmers to pass."Burari DDA ground has already been designated as the protest site and when they want to move, we will be facilitating their movement," he said.
After a restive Friday that saw police using teargas shells, water cannons and multi-layer barriers to block the protesters and some farmers pelting stones and breaking barricades in their determination to push through as part of their 'Delhi Chalo' march, Saturday was quiet.
But the tension persisted with restless crowds milling around the city's edges and beyond and settling down from another night out in the cold.
Though there was no clear roadmap, the farmers belonging to multiple groups, appeared clear in their resolve, some saying that they would not disperse till the laws were repealed and others that would ensure their voices are heard, PTI reported.
Modi backs reforms
Amid the nationwide farmer protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that agriculture reforms "have not only freed farmers from various shackles but have also bestowed on them new rights and opportunities".
Addressing his monthly Mann Ki Baat radio programme, Modi said the recent agriculture reforms have begun mitigating the troubles of farmers in a short span of time as he cited the example of a Maharashtra farmer who used the provisions of the new laws to get the money promised to him by a trader.
"Since ages, these demands of farmers which at one point of time or the other all political parties had promised to them, have now been fulfilled. After deep deliberations, Parliament recently passed farm reform laws," he said.
"These reforms have not only freed the farmers from various shackles, but have also given them new rights and opportunities. In such a short span of time, these rights have started reducing the problems of farmers," he said.
Farmer leaders, however, claimed that more protesters will join them from Haryana and Punjab.
Several Khaps or caste councils from Haryana have extended support to the farmers' ongoing protest and will march towards the national capital, Independent MLA from Haryana's Dadri constituency Sombir Sangwan, who also heads the ''Sangwan Khap'', told PTI over phone. The MLA said the decision was taken in a meeting of the chiefs of 30 ‘khaps’ in Rohtak.
The Khap leaders also called upon the central government to immediately hold talks with farmers and resolve the issue. “During winter thousands of farmers are on roads. The government must immediately talk to them and resolve the issue,” Sangwan said, detailing the proceedings of the meeting.
Punjab and Haryana CMs trade barbs
A war of words has also broken out between the Punjab chief minister and his Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Singh and his Congress party have supported the farmers’ agitation and criticised the Khattar government which had tried to stop the protesters from crossing the BJP-ruled Haryana to enter Delhi.
Khattar on Sunday alleged the programme was sponsored by the Congress and the Punjab government and said he would hold Amarinder Singh responsible if farmers'' gathering on the state''s borders with Delhi leads to an aggravation of the COVID-19 situation in the state.
Amarinder Singh lashed out at Khattar over the remarks, saying: "If he (Khattar) was so concerned about farmers spreading coronavirus in Haryana, whose track record in the pandemic remains extremely poor, he should not have stopped them within the state, but should have allowed them to move quickly to Delhi."
Singh also countered Khattar's allegations that he did not respond to repeated calls made over the farmers' issue, asking why the latter did not use official channels to contact him.
The Punjab chief minister trashed the call records released by Khattar, claiming to be proof of attempts made to get in touch with him, as "complete fraud", saying by this the Haryana chief minister has exposed his "deception" even more sharply.
Khattar had claimed that despite wanting to talk to Amarinder Singh over the issue, he did not respond even when telephone calls to his office were made for three days. The Punjab chief minister hit back and asked Khattar to "stop lying".
On Khattar's remark that farmers should not block Haryana's borders, Singh said it was the Haryana government and its police that have been blocking the borders for the past three days by forcibly stopping the farmers from proceeding.
Amarinder Singh also flayed Khattar's persistent denial of use of force by Haryana Police and noted that the Haryana chief minister's "lies" on the issue have been totally exposed by the Haryana farmers themselves.
"They haved not only rejected their chief minister's claims that no farmer from Haryana had joined the march but had shown their ID cards, duly issued by the Haryana government," the Punjab chief minister claimed.
Opposition lends support to farmers
Opposition parties, too, pressed the government to initiate an unconditional dialogue with the farmers.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal asked the Centre to immediately and unconditionally hold talks with the farmers. BJP’s former ally Shiv Sena said farmers protesting against the Centre's new agriculture sector laws are being treated as if they are "terrorists", and it is sad that they are not being allowed to enter Delhi.
The government should consider the farmers' demands sympathetically, Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.
The Congress, which has been targeting the government over the farm laws issue, said the insistence on support to the legislations shows that the government is "drunk with power".
"Those who are still defending the black farm laws, what solution will they find in favour of farmers?" party leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi, adding that, "Ab hogi (now there will be) #KisaanKiBaat".
RLD president Jayant Chaudhary accused the BJP dispensation at the Centre of wanting to suppress the voice of the farmers with "brute force".
"By using sticks, water canons and tear gas shells at the farmers coming to Delhi to protest peacefully against the new 'anti-farmer' laws, the BJP government has once again shown its anti-farmer mindset," he claimed.
"Busy in campaigning in Hyderabad, the Modi government has delayed the date for talks with farmers to December 3. This shows that farmers are not a priority for the BJP but only elections and votes matter to it," Chaudhary alleged.
Union ministers meet BJP president
With inputs from agencies
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Farmer unions and opposition parties too had raised doubts over the composition of the panel, insisting that its members have been in favour of the three laws in the past. The panel is due to hold its first meeting on 19 January
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