Chandigarh: Weeks ahead of the general election, 200 farmers’ bodies under the banner of the ‘Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee’ (KMSC), and a breakaway faction of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), have decided to march to the national capital on February 13 over their pending demands, including legalising the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and a farm loan waiver.
As their preparations are underway for their trip to Delhi – signalling a possible repeat of the 2020 farmers’ protests – three Union ministers met farmers’ representatives in Chandigarh on Thursday (February 8) evening.
After the meeting wound up at night, around 10 pm, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann, who was present during the meeting, told the media that Union government had taken a positive view on several of the demands, including withdrawing cases on farmers registered during the farm protest in 2020.
On legalising the MSP, Mann said ministers did not commit but promised to take up the matter in detail with higher authorities in the government.
More rounds of meeting are possible in the near future, he said. The three ministers who represented the Union were junior agriculture minister Arjun Munda, junior home minister Nityanand Rai and commerce minister Piyush Goyal.
चंडीगढ़ में केंद्र सरकार के 3 मंत्रियों व पंजाब के मुख्यमंत्री भगवंत मान के साथ किसान नेताओं की मीटिंग में आज क्या हुआ?@ANI @aajtak @ABPNews @BBCHindi @GaonSavera @PTI_News @ajitanjum @htTweets @news24tvchannel pic.twitter.com/RTv1D2biRa
— Abhimanyu Kohar (@KoharAbhimanyu) February 8, 2024
On the other hand, Jagjit Singh Dallewal, convener of the SKM (non-political), who was a key negotiator from the farmers’ side during the meeting, told the media that even though the meeting had a positive atmosphere, there was no plan to defer the programme of marching to Delhi on February 13.
“Central ministers have assured us that they will very soon hold another meeting. It will be in mutual interest if the Centre plans another meeting before February 13 and gives concrete solutions to our demands. Otherwise our call to march towards Delhi on February 13 stands,” Dallewal said.
Dallewal said that several demands put before the Union ministers were the government’s own previous assurances. For instance, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, he was a strong supporter of legalising the MSP. “The Centre even assured us of this step as part of the farm movement negotiation in 2020 but it never took any concrete shape,” he said.
Farmers have also asked for justice in the Lakhimpur Kheri murder case and compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the injured.
Security stepped up at borders, notices to farmers
Many believe that the three Union ministers flying down to Chandigarh for the meeting was because of looming election season pressure.
The ruling BJP, hoping to win a third consecutive term in the Lok Sabha election due in less than two months, does not want a replay of the 2020 farm protest.
While the Centre has initiated talks with farm unions, they are also taking precautions. Security is being beefed up at all entries points towards Delhi from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The government, it is learnt, is trying its level best to convince farmers to defer the ‘Delhi chalo’ call. But if their programme continues as planned, the government is also taking steps to prevent farmers from reaching Delhi.
Sources said that the police are keeping a close eye on the movement of farmers’ leaders heading the agitation.
The Ambala police issued a notice to petrol pump owners asking them not to give petrol and diesel to people in cans and drums. They were specifically asked not to give petrol and diesel to those vehicles which had farmers’ union flags on them.
Meanwhile, the Haryana Police also issued notices to around 20 leaders of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Shaheed Bhagat Singh) in Ambala district. A farmers’ union leader, who too was issued a notice, said that the Haryana Police had even asked them to furnish details about their bank accounts before February 10, failing which they would face action.
The notices, which The Wire has seen, have been issued under Haryana Recovery of Damages of Property During Disturbance of Public Order Act 2021 and under section 69 of Haryana Police Act 2007, under which it was mandatory to take permission before giving a call for meeting or gathering on the road, which was public property.
13 Feb Farmers Delhi March Update:
~Farm leaders met 3 GOI minister delegation
~Another meeting expected before 13Feb
~No firm commitment of Govt on MSP Guarantee Law
~Farmers call of 13 Feb stands
~Haryana police is raiding farm leaders houses, notices to deter farmers pasted ! pic.twitter.com/qx6bmlyska
— Ramandeep Singh Mann (@ramanmann1974) February 9, 2024
Earlier, BKU (SBS) spokesperson Tejveer Singh Ambala had said, “On one hand the Haryana police was targeting farmers by issuing them notices and asking petrol pump owners not to give them petrol and diesel, on the other hand the Central government ministers were holding meetings with us. This shows that Delhi fears the farmers. We will be moving to Delhi on February 13. We have won the battle.”
Tejveer also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had started his first ‘Chai pe Charcha’ programme from Yavatmal in Maharashtra and as per a recent report, the number of farmer suicides have gone up in the Marathwada region, which shows the grim side of the farm crisis in India.
He said, “Farmers do not want to create trouble for anybody. However, if people heading to IGI airport or those going to weddings faced trouble while commuting on February 13, not the farmers but the Central government will be responsible. Let the farmers reach Delhi, we have every right to protest and inform people of how farmers were being ruined by the Modi government.”
Similarly, Gramin Kisan Mazdoor Samiti (GKMS) president Ranjit Singh Raju from Sri Ganganagar district, Rajasthan also said that farmers were deliberately being pushed into the debt trap by the Modi government. “Farmers from Hanumangarh, Anoopgarh and Sri Ganganagar were holding tractor marches for the February 13 Delhi Chalo protest. No farmer ever faces scarcity of wheat in his house. A farmer hardly needs any luxuries to lead his life. All we need is flour and pickles to sustain and rest of the things do not matter.”
Who all are participating in the protest?
More than 200 farmers’ unions have planned to march to Delhi on February 13, which will include around 150 unions of SKM (non-political) and around 76 unions under the banner of the KMSC.
SKM (non-political) is a breakaway faction of the SKM, which played a vital role in forcing the Modi government to take back three farm laws through a year-long protest outside Delhi in 2020.
After the 2020 protest, several unions in SKM went in different directions. Some fought elections and some committed to remain non-political. SKM (non- political) has been born of this churning and claims to have 150 farm unions as members from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and other states.
KMSC, on the other hand, is headed by Sarwan Singh Pandher and claims to have the support of 50 farm unions.
Meanwhile, the other SKM faction under Dr Darshan Pal, Yadvindra Yadav and others distanced itself from the ‘Dilli Chalo’ protest call.
In a statement last week, SKM stated, “The national coordination committee of SKM held an online meeting and clarified that SKM has not given any call for ‘Dilli Chalo’. SKM has nothing to do with the decision of certain kisan organisations to protest in Delhi on February 13.”
While SKM leaders Balbir Singh Rajewal, Darshan Pal and Rakesh Tikait were getting ready for the February 16 ‘Gramin Bharat Bandh’ across the country, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) president Joginder Singh Ugrahan was already leading separate protests in Punjab.
The Bharat Bandh call was given by the SKM, joint platform of Central Trade Unions and Independent Sectoral Federations for farmers, all workers in the unorganised sector including ASHA, Anganwadi and mid-day meal workers.
In a video message, BKU Rajewal president Balbir Singh Rajewal appealed to people to join the Bharat Bandh on February 16 and raise voice against the voiceless farmers, small shopkeepers, and the marginalised sections of the society. BKU leader Rakesh Tikait also appealed people to make Bharat Bandh a success.
With inputs from Kusum Arora.