Cong plans campaigns, month-long protest across India from Sept 24
The two agricultural reform bills — the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 — were cleared by voice vote in Parliament on Sunday.Updated: Sep 22, 2020, 00:26 IST
The Congress on Monday decided to hit the streets across the country from September 24 to protest against what it described as anti-farmer and anti-poor bills passed in Parliament by the government. The party will also launch a campaign to collect 20 million signatures from protesting farmers against the proposed laws.
The two agricultural reform bills — the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 — were cleared by voice vote in Parliament on Sunday.
Opposition members stormed the well of the House, insisting on a division of votes and demanding that the proposed laws be sent to a select committee for greater scrutiny.
The authorities called in marshals to form a double-layered barricade to protect Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh and remove an MP, muted live telecast of the proceedings, and refused to accept the Opposition’s demand for a division (voting through paper ballots) on the legislation.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has described the two farm bills passed by Parliament on Sunday to liberalise the agriculture sector as “historic,” but farmers’ groups and activists opposing them allege that the legislation will create a system lacking adequate oversight and make cultivators vulnerable to exploitation.
“The nationwide agitation will continue till the government repeals the black laws,” senior Congress leader AK Antony told reporters after a meeting of general secretaries and in-charge of states at the party headquarters in Delhi.
A resolution condemning the bills was also passed at the meeting, which was attended by all the office bearers except Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jitin Prasada who joined it virtually. Jharkhand in-charge RPN Singh could not attend because he was out of Delhi for personal reasons.
By announcing a nearly two-month-long protest calendar, the principal opposition party is seeking to regain some of the political space it has lost over the years by tapping the 146 million farmers who have operational land holdings, according to the agriculture census of 2015-16.
The Congress is also seeing the issue as a potential replay of the 2015 moment when party chief Sonia Gandhi played a key role in bringing 14 opposition parties together against the proposed land acquisition bill that forced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government to withdraw a controversial ordinance and shelve the idea of bringing a new legislation to replace a 2013 law.
Senior leader Ahmed Patel said the meeting was held under the directions of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who are in the US for a medical checkup of the Congress’s interim chief . “It is going to be a people’s movement against this government,” he added.
The six-member special committee formed by the Congress president to help her in organisational and operational matters chaired the meeting in her absence.
Besides Antony and Patel, the other members of the special committee are Ambika Soni, KC Venugopal, Mukul Wasnik, and Randeep Singh Surjewala
Venugoipal, who is the Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation, said the party will organise a series of programmes across the country in support of farmers.
Apart from a chain of press conferences across the country starting from September 24, Venugopal said senior leaders from states will on September 28 walk to the respective Raj Bhavans and submit a memorandum on the farms bills to Governors to be handed over to President Ram Nath Kovind.
On October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Congress will observe a Kisan-Mazdoor Bachao Divas (Save Farmers and Farm Labourers Day).
“There will be protests and demonstrations in every district across the country demanding immediate withdrawal of agriculture bills,” he added.
On October 10, Surjewala said state level conferences will be held and from October 2 to October 31, the party will collect signatures from 20 million farmers across all parts of the country. On November 14, the birth anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a memorandum with signatures of 20 million farmers will be submitted to the President.