The heads of all farmer unions protesting against the Centre's new agri reform laws for over two weeks now will observe a one-day hunger strike on Monday, farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni said. The hunger strike from 8 am to 5 pm on Monday is part of the farmers' plan to intensify their agitation from December 14. Addressing a press conference at Singhu border, where the farmers have been camping in agitation, Chaduni said the leaders will observe the hunger strike at their respective places.
"Also dharnas will be staged at all district headquarters across the country. The protest will go on as usual," he told reporters. "There are groups that are ending protest and saying they are in favour of laws passed by the government. We want to clarify that they are not associated with us. They have been hand-in-gloves with the government, they conspired to sabotage our protest. The government is hatching a conspiracy to derail the ongoing farmers' protest," added Chaduni.
Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said "government agencies have been stopping farmers from reaching Delhi, but the protest will continue till their demands are met". "Our stand is clear, we want the three farm laws repealed. All farmer unions participating in this movement are together," he said.
Another farmer leader, Rakesh Tikait, said, "If the government gives another proposal for talks, our committee will decide on it. We appeal to all to maintain peace during protest.”
Sandeep Gidde, another farmer leader, announced at the press conference that the proposed indefinite hunger strike by farmers from December 19 has been cancelled and it will be a day-long strike on Monday instead.
Farmer unions, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, say that the new laws will lead to the dismantling of the MSP system under which government agencies buy their crop at an assured price. In its proposal to farmers on Wednesday, the Centre had said it will give a written assurance that the MSP system will remain and also redress their other key concerns.
The unions, however, are demanding complete rollback of the central laws and have threatened to intensify their agitation. Thousands of farmers have been staying put at Delhi border points -- Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Chilla (Delhi-Noida) -- for two weeks against the laws.
On Thursday, the government had asked farmer groups to reconsider its proposals for amending the Acts to address their concerns and said it was open to discussing its offer further whenever the unions want, but protesters remained defiant. Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar had on Friday said some "anti-social elements" were conspiring to spoil the atmosphere of the farmers’ movement and appealed to the protesting farming community to be vigilant against their platform being misused.
At least five rounds of formal talks have taken place between the central government and representatives of thousands of farmers, but the deadlock has continued with the unions sticking to their main demand for the repeal of the three contentious laws and repeatedly rejecting the Centre's offer to make some changes in law and give written assurances or clarifications on a few issues such as MSP and mandi systems.
Jaipur to Delhi March
Farmers from Rajasthan and some other places gathered in large numbers on the Haryana-Rajasthan border near Rewari for their march towards Delhi and sat in protest on side of the Delhi-Jaipur national highway as the Haryana police put up barricades to stop them. Rewari's Superintendent of Police Abhishek Jorwal told reporters at the site that district authorities have imposed Section 144 of the CrPC banning assembly of five or more people.
"We have set up barricades and we will try to stop them here," he said, adding, besides adequate force of the Haryana police, three companies of paramilitary personnel have been deployed to ensure law and order. The farmers were sitting in protest at Jaisinghpur Kheda area in Rewari along Rajasthan-Haryana border (NH-48). Gurgaon is over 70 km from the site while Delhi is nearly 80 km away.
Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav, who was at the site, said since the barricades have been put, the farmers had no option but to stage a sit-in.
Kejriwal to Join Fast
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he will observe a day-long fast on Monday in response to the call given by farmers. Addressing a virtual press briefing on Sunday, the chief minister asked the Centre bring a bill to guarantee minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural produce. "I want to appeal to the central government to put an end to their ego. The governments are formed by the public, the public is not formed by the governments. The three farm laws should be immediately repealed and a Bill should be brought to guarantee MSP to farmers," he said.
The chief minister said the Centre should immediately accept all demands of the farmers who have been protesting on Delhi's borders for the past two weeks. Kejriwal expressed anguish that some central ministers and BJP leaders were labelling protesting farmers as "traitors and anti-nationals".
"I want to ask them, if so many ex-servicemen, national and international sportspersons, singers and celebrities, lawyers and traders supporting and joining them, are all anti-national?" he questioned. Kejriwal compared the "defaming" of the farmers protest with the Anna Hazare's movement of which he was a top leader. "I could not help but reminisce the days of Anna Hazare Ji's movement. The Congress government defamed us as anti-nationals. What Congress did to our movement, the BJP is doing the same to the farmers protest," he said.
Tomar Targets Opposition
Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar accused opposition parties of running a propaganda against the new farm reforms and asserted that these legislations "may cause difficulty for some in the short term" but will be beneficial to farmers in the long run. Tomar, who is leading negotiations with the 40 protesting farmer unions to break the deadlock, was addressing a delegation of over 100 farmers from Uttarakhand who came to extend their support to the laws.
Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary and Uttarakhand Education Minister Arvind Pandey were present in the meeting. Addressing the delegation, Tomar said the government faced opposition when it revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. It also faced opposition when it brought the amended citizenship law as well as over the Ram temple issue.
"When the agricultural reforms were brought, there was opposition to this too.... There are some people who just oppose and weaken the country. This has become their nature," the agriculture minister said. Tomar also met home minister Amit Shah amid farmers' protest.