New Delhi: Challenging heavy security arrangements made across Delhi, Haryana and Punjab, installation of barbed wires and concrete walls, erection of iron spikes, digging out of trenches and mobile internet shut down, farmers’ ‘Delhi Chalo’ march has started amid confrontations between agitators and the police at different locations.
The food growers who are facing teargas shells, lathicharge and water canons at several local on their way to the city says, “We have sown crops and flowers on the land and now when we are going to Delhi to take our rights, they (the government) are sowing nails and thorns for us.”
The peasants from many areas of Punjab and Haryana are moving towards the city to press the government to accept their demands related to enactment of a law to ensure minimum support price (MSP), pension benefits, among others.
On February 13 morning, leaders of Kisan Mazdoor Morcha prayed at the Gurudwara Shri Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, seeking blessings for the success of their Delhi march protest.
With high morale, firmness and determination to lay a siege in Delhi, they seem to be ready for a long struggle and all possible circumstances that might arise out of the protest.
They are accusing the central government of “breaking promises” and “betraying the farming community”.
“The Narendra Modi-led Centre has not only denied the rights of farmers and workers, but also betrayed them. We were promised that a committee would be formed to look into our demands pertaining to legal guarantee for MSP, loan waivers, withdrawal of the contentious power bill [Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021], etc. But the proposed committee has not been constituted even after two years, forget about consulting different stakeholders,” Shravan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, told The Mooknayak.
Why do they (the Centre) say no to the law to guarantee MSP for crops, he asked.
Remaining the Modi government that MS Swaminathan always stood for farmers’ rights, he declared the Centre’s decision to confer the ‘Bharat Ratna’ — highest civilian award — upon the renowned agricultural scientist mere a “tokenism” to lure the farming community ahead of the general elections, 2024.
“The government is honoring Swaminathan to lure farmers ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and secure their votes, but his formula to help farm growers and labourers has not been implemented,” he said.
In addition to a legal guarantee for MSP, the farmers are also demanding implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, farm debt waiver, withdrawal of police cases against them and pensions for farmers and farm labourers.
Sought his reaction on the government’s claimed willingness for a dialogue, he said, “We want to resolve the matter by talking to the government, but instead of accepting the demands, they are once again giving only assurances — which are a farce and fraud.”
The Central government held talks with farmer organizations in Chandigarh on February 12 evening for about five hours, but it turned out to be inconclusive.
Following the failure of negotiations, Union ministers Arjun Munda and Piyush Goyal told the media, “On most of the issues, we are towards a resolution. There are some issues that would be resolved after talking to other stakeholders. We believe that every issue can be resolved through dialogue.”
And therefore, he said, the government is ready to talk to farmers with an open mind. However, he seemed to be avoiding saying anything about the fortification of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab to stop farmers from entering the city.
Questioning the government’s intentions, Pandher alleged, “On the one hand, the government is pretending to negotiate, while on the other, our people are being intimidated. The BJP government has created a Kashmir-like situation in Haryana. The police are coming to our homes and threatening us to confiscate our land, passports, land etc.”
He asked if it isn't a hypocrisy that the government calls them “food providers” of the country, but when these “food providers” talk about their rights, the attitude of the government changes.
Santveer Singh Mohanpura of Rajasthan-based farmer union — Gramin Kisan Mazdoor Samiti, released a video message, expressing anger over the government blocking roads to stop them.
“We will go to Delhi. If the government can stop us, we dare them to stop. If we are forced to go, we will go,” he said.
Unprecedented security arrangements have been made at different borders between Delhi, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, raising questions as to for whom these preparations have been made. Who is coming to Delhi? Are they enemies of any country?
A similar picture was witnessed during the farmers’ movement of 2020-21 when the government tried to stop the peasants by digging national highways to put up barbed iron wires and fire tear gas shells, but the agitators managed to reach Delhi borders and organise a dharna for over a year. It finally forced the government to agree to their demands and repeal three controversial agricultural laws.
This time also, the farmers have not suddenly marched towards Delhi, rather they had been protesting at district and village levels for several months — reiterating their demands. They are demanding that the written assurances given to them by the government in 2021 be fulfilled.
They allege that the government “ignored” their demands; and when they embarked on a big march, it was taking all possible steps to “provoke” a confrontation”.
“On one hand, the government is talking to us; but on the other, it is preparing to suppress our movement,” they said.
Farmers want the government to give a guarantee for MSP price for their crops and for this, a law should be passed in the Parliament. They argue it will ensure fixed income for them.
They say that traders take advantage of their farm produce and hard work, while they often find it difficult to even meet the cost of their total expenditure.
It was seen many times that the prices of tomatoes and onions skyrocketed and at times fell so low that it became difficult for the growers to meet the input costs.
Government ministers are claiming that they will resolve their issues by forming a committee. “What did the government do for the last two years? First, it formed a committee for the MSP Guarantee Act, what happened to it? Now, we do not want a new committee or assurance, but a solution,” they reiterated.
Legislation should be framed and implemented to guarantee the purchase of all crops at MSP in the entire country. The prices of crops should be fixed according to Dr Swaminath Commission’s recommendations.
There should be a complete loan waiver for farmers and farm laborers.
Land Acquisition Act, 2013 should be enacted across the country. Written consent to farmers before acquisition of their land should be made compulsory and they should be compensated with an amount — which is four times more than the market.
The culprits of Lakhimpur Kheri “massacre” (wherein four farmers were crushed to death by SUVs, including one allegedly owned by Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni and being driven by his son on October 3, 2021) should be punished and the victims be given justice.
India should come out of the World Trade Organization, and all free trade agreements should be canceled.
Farmers and farm laborers should be given pension.
Farmers killed during the 2020-21 peasants’ movement should be compensated, and at least one member of the victim’s families be given a government job.
Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020 should be scrapped.
Under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005), labourers should be given 200 days of employment per year along with a wage allowance of Rs 700. MGNREGA should be linked to farming.
Provision should be made to impose strict penalties and fines on companies manufacturing fake seeds, pesticides and fertlisers and improve the quality of seeds.
A national commission should be formed for chilli, turmeric and other spices.
The 5th Schedule of the Constitution should be implemented; the rights of tribals on water, forest and land should be ensured; and the loot of land by the tribals should be stopped.
The farmers were warning about such a movement for the last several months, but the government did not pay heed to it. Yesterday, on February 12, two rounds of talks were held between farmer representatives and the government, But no solution was found.
On the other hand, blockades were done from roads to social media to stop their proposed march to Delhi. X (formerly Twitter) accounts of prominent farmer leaders were taken down.
In addition, the Haryana government had already shut down the internet till today (February 13). It was also shut down in three districts of Rajasthan.
Heavy barricading has also been done on the border of UP, while there is no information of any front from the state participating in the protest. Similar arrangements have been made at all the borders of Delhi. The police practiced tear gas firing and using drone cameras.
The first call for the farmers’ ‘Dilli Chalo’ march was given by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) and some other peasant’s organisations. However, the SKM is not included in this march.
Now, the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha — an umbrella body of about 200 farmer’s organisations — is spearheading the agitation.
All these farmer organisations were part of the movement that started on the borders of Delhi two years ago and were with the United Kisan Morcha. But later, there were some political differences among them, and a new organization was formed.
Jagjit Singh Dallewal, state president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta Sidhupur, a major component of the front, said, “While postponing the historic farmers’ movement, the central government had given a written promise, assuring us that an MSP guarantee law would be enacted, FIR lodged during the protest would be quashed, complete justice will be given to the families of the martyred farmers of Lakhimpur Kheri and the Electricity Amendment Bill will not be brought without discussing it with the farmers.”
He told The Mooknayak that “the government has not fulfilled even one of these promises, nor has it fulfilled the promise made in the run up of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to waive off farmers’ loans and implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations”.
“On the contrary, it is vindictive towards us. By adopting a cunning strategy of carelessly eliminating or reducing the import duty on agricultural commodities, efforts are being made to harass the farmers of the country,” he alleged.
The SKM along with the Central Trade Union has called for ‘Bharat Bandh’ on February 16 with almost the same demands. The farmers’ body has also condemned the government’s crackdown on the protesting farmers.
“We have earlier clarified that we have not given the call for the ‘Delhi Chalo; on February 13, and the SKM has nothing to do with the protest. However, organizations other than the SKM are allowed to protest. We have the right to protest, and it is the responsibility of the central government to deal with such agitations in a democratic manner instead of resorting to state repression,” it said in a statement.
The SKM sought to know from PM Modi as to why his government is not ready to discuss the woes of farmers and workers. A nationwide rural bandh and industrial/regional strike would be observed on February 16, it said, to raise people’s livelihood demands.