Unmoved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to repeal the three contentious farm laws, Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) unleashed the combined might of 40 farm unions in Lucknow and warned of a prolonged agitation till all its six demands, including a legal guarantee on MSP for crops and Union junior minister Ajay Mishra Teni’s dismissal over the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, were met.
As hundreds of farmers from across UP and its neighbouring states, including Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, converged on Lucknow’s Eco Garden for the kisan mahapanchayat, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait declared the year-long agitation he had been spearheading on the Delhi border was far from over. “Sangharsh vishram ki ghoshna abhi humne nahi ki hai...humare masle bahut hain abhi (We have not stopped our agitation...a lot of issues are yet to be resolved),” he said.
The mahapanchayat slogan - “MSP nahi toh andolan wahi (MSP off means agitation on)” - echoed what Tikait said. SKM threatened to take the stir to different parts of the country if the Centre didn’t fulfil its demands. The organisation has convened a meeting on the Delhi border on November 27 to decided its next course of action.
SKM’s wishlist includes repeal of the 2020 electricity bill, withdrawal of cases filed against farmers for stubble burning, rehabilitation of the families of farmers who died during the agitation so far and a memorial to them at the Singhu border.
Tikait slammed BJP and its allies for allegedly diverting people’s attention from the farm protests by raising “communal issues”. Picking on PM Modi’s reference to “kuch log (some people)” while explaining why the Centre was forced to opt for a repeal of the farm laws, he alleged it was a ploy to divide the farmers.
“The PM’s apology will not help farmers get the right price for their produce. They will get this price only when MSP is given legal sanctity,” Tikait said, pointing out that a committee headed by Modi during his stint as Gujarat CM in 2011 had made the same recommendation. “The report is still there with the PMO and awaits implementation,” he said. Jai Kisan Andolan convener Yogendra Yadav accused BJP of shielding junior home minister Teni, whose son allegedly ran over four protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. “He is the sutradhaar (facilitator) of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence,” Yadav said, addressing a gathering of farmers and asking them not to relent till the minister was sacked and jailed.
SKM’s combative move to call the mahapanchayat in Lucknow is seen as hitting BJP where it might potentially hurt the most, especially with assembly elections due early next year.
Govt to repeal farm laws: PM Modi
Earlier, PM Modi offered an apology for being unable to convince a section of farmers about the benefits of the new farm laws and announced that they would be withdrawn in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. Promising a new start to agitating farm unions, the PM justified the three laws meant to allow freer trade and introduce contract farming as beneficial to farmers.
He lamented that a small section failed to see this fact even when it was as clear as the light of the lamp, but refrained from pointing a finger. “There must have been shortcomings in our own efforts,” he said. This was the second significant retreat, leaving aside the reluctance to follow through with the enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act by preparing the National Population Register. PM Modi made the announcement in his address to the nation on Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
“While apologising to the countrymen, today I want to say sincerely that perhaps there must have been some deficiency in our tapasya that we could not explain the truth (about the farm laws) like the light of the lamp to the farmer brothers,” the PM said after outlining several decisions and measures the government had undertaken to improve income and benefits to the farming community. “Whatever I did, I did for the farmers and whatever I am doing, I am doing for the country,” the PM said.
He urged agitating farmers, who have set up blockades at border points around Delhi, to return to homes. The move is expected to bring the BJP some significant political spin-offs. Two of the states where the protest has been sharpest, are due for assembly elections early next year – Punjab where its fortunes have taken a downturn and the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. Since November last year, thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have been camping outside Delhi, demanding that the Centre cancel the laws.