Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait on Saturday said farmers unions are not aware of the presence of any anti-social elements in their ongoing protests against the Centre's new farm laws and asked the government to nab them if it suspects so. His comments came a day after the Centre asked the protesting farmers to be vigilant against their platform being misused, saying some "anti-social" as well as "Leftist and Maoist" elements are conspiring to spoil the atmosphere of the agitation.
Tikait accused the government of trying to "malign" their protests. "We do not know about the presence of anti-social elements in our agitation. The government is trying to distract the farmers. It is trying to malign our movement. And if it thinks there are any such elements in our protests, it should catch them. We have not stopped the government," news agency PTI quoted him as saying.
On Human Rights Day on Thursday, photographs of some protesters at the Tikri border holding posters and demanding the release of several activists arrested under various charges had gone viral on social media, prompting agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar to say that "anti-social elements" are conspiring to spoil the atmosphere of the movement.
Earlier in the day, farmer leader Kanwalpreet Singh Pannu alleged at a press conference that the government tried to weaken their agitation, but the protesting farmers did not let that happen.
"The government tried to weaken our agitation by dividing us (various farmer unions). I want to say that the ongoing agitation is fully under the control of 32 farmer unions. We will fail every government attempt to divide us," he said.
Pannu said they are ready to hold talks with the government, but will first discuss repealing the three new farm laws and announced that representatives of their unions would sit on a hunger strike during a nationwide protest on December 14. He added that farmers will move from Rajasthan's Shajapur to Delhi borders blocking the Delhi-Jaipur route on Sunday.
Thousands of farmers have already blocked two key roads into Delhi and tried to take over more Saturday but were again stopped by police who put up security cordons. Some farmers were detained on the expressway to Agra while other groups took over at least two toll booths and let cars and trucks pass without paying. Farmers squatted in the service lane at Ghazipur on the edge of Delhi chanting slogans against the Narendra Modi government.
Farmers' leaders and ministers have held several rounds of talks but they have broken down without agreement. Agriculture unions want three laws which allow farmers to sell their produce on free markets to be repealed and a decades-old guaranteed minimum price system to be maintained. The government has said it is only ready to make some amendments.
Food and consumer affairs minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday that the protests had been hijacked by "Maoist elements" but Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to reassure farmers that the changes would boost their incomes.
"Reforms will help draw investment in the agriculture sector and benefit farmers," he told an industry body on Saturday. "The aim of all government reforms is to make farmers prosperous. When farmers prosper, the country will prosper."
The Congress hit out at the PM and said farmers want pro-people governance not flowery speeches and urged the Centre to accede to their demands. In a tweet, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala attacked Modi, saying the "whole country is fed up of your enticing lollypops".
Security Beefed Up at Borders
The Delhi Police has scaled up security by deploying extra personnel and putting in place multi-layered barricades at various border points in view of the call given by farmers to intensify their protest and block the Jaipur-Delhi highway on Sunday.
“Adequate arrangements have made and these include multi-layered barricades and deployment of extra personnel. Measures have also been taken to ensure commuters do not face inconvenience at places were protest are being staged, a senior police,” officer said.
Efforts on for Meeting
Union Minister Som Prakash, who is negotiating with protesting farmers, said efforts are being made to call an early meeting with leaders to end the stalemate. The two sides have had five rounds of talks. The farmers have rejected a government offer to amend the farm laws and give a "written assurance" on continuing the MSP system.
"We are trying to call a meeting early...We are discussing. The date has not been finalized," the minister told PTI, adding "ultimately, we have to resolve this issue through dialogue. There is no other way out. They (farmers) also know it, we also know”.
Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala, whose JJP is in alliance with the BJP, met agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar in Delhi and said he is hopeful that the next round of talks between the Centre and the unions will take place in the next 24-40 hours.
Support for the Laws
A delegation of 29 farmers from Haryana also met Tomar to extend their support to the new legislations and threatened to stage a protest if those are repealed. The delegation, led by Bharatiya Kisan Union's (Mann) Haryana state leader Guni Prakash, submitted a "letter of support" to Tomar on the farm laws passed by Parliament in September and demanded the government to continue with these legislations.
"We will also protest if the government repeals the laws. We have given a memorandum to all districts," Prakash told reporters after the meeting. He also sought to know why the previous government did not implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission till 2014.
"Everyone has a right to protest. They have, so do we. We are in support of the three laws, but this protest is being led by Leftists and those who are violent," he said. Claiming that the ongoing farmers' agitation is no longer a peasant movement, the BKU leader said, "It has taken a political colour. Farmers will get real freedom through these three laws."
This was the second group of farmers from Haryana that met Tomar and extended support to the farm laws. The first group had met the minister on December 7.