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Support Swells for Bharat Bandh Called by Protesting Farmers as Trade Unions in 12 States, Oppn Back Call

Farmers shout slogans during their protest against the new farm laws, at Delhi-UP border on December 6, 2020. (PTI Photo/Arun Sharma)

Farmers shout slogans during their protest against the new farm laws, at Delhi-UP border on December 6, 2020. (PTI Photo/Arun Sharma)

NCP chief and former union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar warned the Centre that if the deadlock continues, the agitation will not be limited to Delhi and people from across the country will stand by the protesting farmers.

The Congress, TRS, DMK and the AAP joined other opposition parties in extending support to the Bharat Bandh on December 8 called by farmer unions which have been protesting on Delhi's borders for 11 days demanding repeal of the Centre's new agri-marketing laws. The Trinamool Congress, RJD and the Left parties, besides a joint platform of 10 central trade unions, had on Saturday backed the countrywide strike.

NCP chief and former union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar warned the Centre that if the deadlock continues, the agitation will not be limited to Delhi and people from across the country will stand by the protesting farmers. Expressing the Congress' "wholehearted" support to the strike call, party spokesperson Pawan Khera said it will hold protests that day at all district and state headquarters in solidarity with the demands of the farmers.

Addressing the media at the AICC headquarters in Delhi, he said former party chief Rahul Gandhi, through tractor rallies, signature campaigns and Kisaan rallies, has been raising the party's voice in support of the farmers. "All our district headquarters and Pradesh headquarters will participate in this bandh. They will hold demonstrations and ensure that the bandh is successful," Khera said.

TRS president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said the party rank and file would actively participate in the bandh to ensure it was a success, according to an official statement. Rao justified the support, stating that the farmers are legally agitating against the farm bills enacted in September and recalled his party's opposition to the legislation in Parliament.

The DMK-led opposition bloc in Tamil Nadu too extended support to the strike, saying the farmers' demand for repealing legislation was "totally justified." DMK Chief M K Stalin had led a state-wide protest on Saturday against the farm laws. In a statement, Stalin, TNCC chief KS Alagiri, MDMK founder Vaiko and Left leaders, among other DMK allies, said the ongoing protest outside Delhi by farmers was growing every day and drawing global attention.

The grouping appealed to farmer unions, traders' bodies, government employees' associations, labour unions and others in the state to extend "grand support" to the bandh and make it a success on Tuesday. Actor Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) also extended support to the protest by farmers.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that all AAP workers across the country will join the nationwide strike and appealed to all citizens to support the farmers. "The Aam Aadmi Party fully supports the Bharat Bandh' call made by farmers on December 8. AAP workers across the country will support it peacefully. There is an appeal to all countrymen that everyone should support the farmers and participate in it," Kejriwal tweeted.

AAP leader and Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said volunteers and workers will participate in the strike to support the farmers. Pawar, whose NCP is part of the Congress-led UPA, said farmers from Punjab and Haryana contribute the most to the country's agriculture and food supply.

"I hope wisdom dawns on the government and it takes cognisance to resolve the issue. If this stalemate continues, the protest will not be limited to Delhi, but people from nook and corner of the country will stand by the protesting farmers," he said. The ruling TMC in West Bengal had on Saturday extended "moral support" to the December 8 nationwide strike and said it would stage sit-ins in various areas for three days.

TMC MP Sudip Bandopadhyay had said his party, during its protest programmes in Bengal, would seek immediate withdrawal of the farm laws and that the new bills be sent to the standing committee or select committee of Parliament after due deliberations with all stakeholders. The Left parties -- Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc -- had made the announcement in a joint statement.

In Patna, opposition parties led by RJD's Tejashwi Yadav had on Saturday protested against the farmers' bill. The joint forum of trade unions that has supported the farmers' stir includes Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC).

The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmers' body, said it will join the "non-violent" protest on Tuesday. Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for 11 days against the new farm laws.

The Centre's offer to amend the contentious laws failed to cut ice with the farmer groups during the fifth round of talks on Saturday. As the logjam continued, the Centre has called another meeting on December 9.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, after the talks on Saturday, renewed his appeal to the farmers to end the stir and assured them that the Modi government remains committed to farmers' interests. He requested farmer unions to send the elderly, women and children back to their homes from protest due to cold weather.

The three farm laws have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country. However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The Centre has repeatedly asserted that these mechanisms will remain.