The government on Friday asked protesting farmers to be vigilant against their platform being hijacked by “anti-social" as well as “Leftist and Maoist" elements as the agitators plan to escalate their stir by blocking more highways around Delhi from Saturday.
Farmers opposing the new laws on agricultural reform have also filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of the three legislations that they say will drive down crop prices. The petition, filed by Bharatiya Kisan Union, argued that the laws were arbitrary because the government enacted them without proper consultations with stakeholders, and claimed that it will result in the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) system being dismantled and “may even result in famines”.
Thousands of farmers have over the past few weeks been protesting against these laws, demanding that the government repeal them. These laws were first introduced in June as ordinances by the central government. Five round of talks between the government and farmers since November have failed to halt the blockade of Delhi, with the protesters continuing to insist that the laws be repealed.
With the farmers refusing to resume talks unless repeal of the three laws is on the table, ministers in the union government on Friday began pushing the narrative that the agitation has been hijacked by ‘anti-national’ elements. Several ministers made this claim in statements issued separately.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the ongoing farmers’ protest has been “overtaken” by the “tukde-tukde gang”, adding that “it is possible that the negotiations (between the government and farmers’ unions) failed due to them.”
Reiterating this claim, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar he thinks that instead of the farmers union, “the protest has now gone into the hands of organisations who work to break the nation.” “When we held talks with them, they said they want people like Sharjeel Imam to be released,” he said as evidence of his claim.
Food, Railway and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal was also direct in his charge, alleging that certain Leftist and Maoist elements seem to have taken “control" of the agitation and rather than discussing on farmer issues, they seem to be having some other agenda.
A similar theory was pushed by agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar who said MSP and APMC can be the issues of farmers, “but what is the point to raise such posters”. “This is dangerous and farmers’ unions should keep themselves away from this."
Tomar also said the government is willing to amend the laws to allay the farmers concerns, but they should give up their insistence on scrapping them. The farmers petitioned the court after rejecting a renewed government offer of talks.
The claims of the protests being hijacked were rubbished by the farmers’ groups who have maintained that their protest is apolitical and peaceful, rebuffing overtures from opposition parties.
Their petition in the Supreme Court states that the three laws, combined, would lead to complete cartelisation of the agriculture industry and leave farmers “vulnerable to the greed of the corporates”. “Corporates can, with one stroke, export agriculture produce without any regulation, and it may even result in famines,” states the plea.
The protest leaders also announced on Friday that farmers will block highways connecting Delhi with Jaipur and Agra on Saturday and organise a nationwide shutdown of businesses next Monday unless their demands are met.
Protesters said they also plan to surround the houses of BJP leaders, but denied rumours that they would also block trains.
The farmers say the laws, passed in September, will deregulate crop prices and devastate their earnings. They fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push prices down. The government says it is willing to pledge that guaranteed prices will continue.
Modi’s government insists the reforms will benefit farmers. It says they will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.
Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states. The situation escalated two weeks ago when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi, where they clashed with police. More farmers are expected to reach Delhi to join the protest in the coming days.