As the Bharat bandh or nation-wide shutdown commenced on Tuesday, thousands of protesting farmers arrived at various locations in Delhi NCR. But on Wednesday as the agitation against the center's three farming laws entered its 14th Day, the sixth round of negotiations scheduled for today was canceled.
Union home minister Amit Shah reiterated the government’s position against repealing the new farm laws in a meeting with farmers on Tuesday. Leaving the meeting, farmer leaders said the government will instead send a proposal for their consideration, which will be discussed at a noon meeting at the Sindhu border on Wednesday.
Thousands of protesting farmers from Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have been gathered at five different borders since November 26 including Delhi's Chilla and Singhu border for nearly two weeks, demanding a repeal of three agricultural laws passed by the Centre in September. The protesting farmers have a set of five main demands including implementation of MSP. And on Tuesday, protests spilled over to other parts of the country with protests swelling in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
What happened at the meeting between farmers and Amit Shah?
On the evening of Bharat Bandh, Union Minister Amit Shah along with Narendra Singh Tomar, food minister Piyush Goyal and MoS for Commerce Som Parkash met with farmer leaders including All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). It had been expected to take place at Shah's residence but was ultimately held at the National Agricultural Science Complex in Pusa. Farmer leaders have been firm on their demand for the repeal of three new farm laws enacted in September, which they claim will benefit corporates and end the mandi system and the minimum support price (MSP) regime. The meeting, which continued till late evening, appeared to have led to discord among the organisations spearheading the protests on Delhi's borders for the past 12 days with the head of the BKU (Ugrahan), which is one of the largest outfits in the bloc, questioning the rationale of the talks a day before the official consultations were scheduled.
Why are farmers protesting?
The week before last saw fierce clashes between farmers and security personnel when hundreds of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh marched to Delhi to demand a repeal of three central farm laws passed by the government of India in September. Alternatively, the farmers have demanded the implementation of a minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.
What are the three farm laws?
In September, the Centre passed three agricultural laws that have been dubbed as agricultural reforms. These are namely the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. While the government has claimed that the laws are in the interest of the farmers, the latter have claimed that the laws are "anti-farmer".
Why are farmers protesting against the farm laws?
The main objection to the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act is that it is pro-corporate. It allows farmers to sell outside of the APMC (agricultural produce market committee). But it abolishes the mandi system that operates under the APMC system, meaning farmers would now have to sell to corporates, meaning there will be no purchase of crop at MSP.
Besides these, farmers fear losing their land and becoming "slaves" to the corporates as far as The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 is concerned.
The government has on the other hand said that the agricultural laws will help the farmers by enabling them to sell their produce within the state or anywhere else in the country and there will be no restriction on this type of trade. This will benefit the farmers that they will be able to sell their produce to the merchant wherever they get a higher price.
Why was Bharat Bandh called?
Farmers’ outfits are observing a Bharat Bandh (nationwide shutdown) today to protest against the controversial new agriculture laws, with several trade and transport unions extending support and almost all opposition parties also backing their demands. Farmer leaders said their strike will remain peaceful and that no shops and establishments will be forcibly closed on account of the Bandh. “There will be complete ‘Bharat bandh’ till 3 pm Tuesday, but emergency services will be allowed,” farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal told reporters. The farmer leaders had earlier announced their intention to block all roads leading to Delhi, which has emerged as the epicenter of the protests against the farm laws, and occupy all toll plazas, but on Monday said they do not want to inconvenience the common people and have, hence, kept the timing of the chakka jam (blockade) from 11 am to 3 pm. The farmers have also said that the protests are apolitical.
The farmers' protests have led to a huge debate on social media with many condemning the violence meted out to peacefully protesting farmers by security forces. Many images of security forces beating elderly farmers with lathis, or spraying farmers with water cannons and tear gas went viral, causing widespread outrage. Several political leaders and public personalities have come out in support of the farmers.
(With inputs from IANS)