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Modi Blames Opposition for Farm Strike as Farmers Prepare for a Long Haul

Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Dec 15: As the Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed the opposition for “misleading” the farmers on agitation against the three farm laws and his agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar claiming support of at least 18 more farmers’ union for the contentious acts, the farmers laying seize of the borders of Delhi said on Tuesday that they were prepared for a long haul, “may be through the entire second term of the Modi government,” with no indication of any solution to the impasse in sight.

Modi, who was on a day’s visit to his home state Gujarat inaugurating or laying foundation stones of several projects in the arid region of border district of Kutch, squarely blamed the opposition for the present deadlock claiming that the farmers were being “misled” by these parties who when in power themselves were favouring such changes in the farm acts and now protesting just for the sake of opposing.

“People who are sitting in the Opposition and misleading farmers and ‘shooting from their shoulders’ to attack the government today were in favour of these farm reforms during their government. They could not make a decision during their government. Today when the nation has taken a historical step then these people are misleading farmers,” Modi said.

“The country is asking why small farmers who produce grains and pulses should not get the freedom to sell crops. Agricultural reforms were in demand for years. Many farmers’ organisations have also demanded in advance that they should be given an option to sell food grains anywhere,” Modi said supporting the three new acts adopted by Parliament in September which the agitating farmers demanding a total roll back.

“Today those who are confusing the farmers by sitting in the opposition, have supported these reforms in their time. They just kept giving false comfort to the farmers. When the country has taken these steps, they are now confusing the farmers,” he said.

Exposing, what he called, “conspiracy by the opposition, the prime minister said “a conspiracy is going on to confuse the farmers. They are being scared that after new agrarian reforms, others will occupy the land of the farmers. You tell me, if a dairyman contracts to take milk from you, does he take your animal?” he asked the farmers while laying the foundation stone of a dairy in Kutch.

Modi reiterated that his government was all for the welfare of the farmers. “I am again telling farmer brothers and sisters that the government is ready 24 hours to solve their every doubt. The interest of farmers has been the priority of our government since day one.” The PM also met delegations of farmers from Punjab settled in Kutch district as well as local cultivators and heard their issues with the Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani accompanying him. According to rough estimates, about 5,000 Sikh families from Punjab drawn from the armed forces have been re-settled in the border district some five decades ago.

The protests by thousands of farmers fearing that the new acts would make them subservient to the big corporate houses entering into contract farming, entered the 20th day on Tuesday. Thousands of farmers hailing from Punjab and Haryana have been protesting in and around the national capital demanding the repeal of three farm laws with still no signs of a resolution to the standoff with the government. So far, the government side – represented by Tomar, food minister Piyush Goyal and minister of state for commerce and industries Som Parkash have engaged in five rounds of negotiations with 40 farmer unions without any resolution.

The leaders of the agitating farmers said the government was trying to break their unity by coming out with newer claims every day about more farmers’ organistions having extended support to the acts. Tomar who had earlier claimed that dozens of farmers’ organisations across the country had lend support to the acts, claimed on Tuesday that representatives of 18 more farm unions from different states called on him and supported the acts.

The government also received some flak from the opposition leaders for prolonging the agitation and the strongest criticism came from the ruling BJP’s erstwhile ally in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal. Its president Sukhbir Singh Badal called the BJP the real ‘tukde tukde gang’ which is trying to push patriotic Punjab into communal flames. “BJP is the real ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ in the country. It has smashed national unity to pieces, shamelessly inciting Hindus against Muslims and now desperately setting peace loving Punjabi Hindus against their Sikh brethren especially farmers. They’re pushing patriotic Punjab into communal flames,” he said.

Apprehending that the government was deliberately adopting delaying tactics to try to wear them out, the farmers unions on the contrary cautioned the government pointing out that they have come prepared for a long haul and can sit at the dharna site “through PM Narendra Modi’s entire second term” that ends in 2024. They also asserted that they were on guard against divisive forces trying to discredit the farmers’ movement.

“Before coming to Delhi we were not sitting inside our homes for the past six months. In Punjab too, we were putting up day-night dharnas in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s Offices and conducting a Rail Roko Morcha…So, if someone is under impression that we will fed up and go back, it is their mistake,” said Satnam Sing Pannu, president of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), while addressing his supporters at the Kundli-Singhu border.

Satnam Singh Sahni, the general secretary of BKU (Doaba), said: “Before coming to Delhi under our ‘Dilli Chalo’ movement, we were prepared for a long protest that is why we brought six months ration with us and when it will be over our men in Punjab will bring more.” He added that farmers will stay put until their demands were accepted whenever it was.

Pannu added: “Our workers are as enthusiastic as they were on day one of the protest because fighting against anti-farmer, anti-farm labour policies has become the order of the day for us now…they can project whatever they want to project about us but we are only concerned with farmers and farm labourers.”

 

Col (Retired) Balbir Singh, president of the Ex-Servicemen Association of Punjab and Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association, Jalandhar, said while all ex-servicemen of the Punjab are supporting farmers in their protest, they are also aware of the efforts being made by the pro-government organisations to break such a strong and systematic movement by projecting it negatively.

Experts said while even negative forces would try to ride piggy back on such a popular movement to push their agenda, farmers so far have done to keep such forces at arm’s length and not giving them stage time.

“It is a farmers’ movement and farmers have proved it so far despite several attempts (to discredit it),” he leaders said.

The Modi government while giving assurance of having “kept open mind and ready to discuss any clause of the acts,” has refused to take back the laws. “A repeal is not possible, and a 0-1 binary will not work. The government has given an amendment option. It is also willing to change the wordings of the three laws based on farmer concerns,” the central agriculture department sources said.