Farmers broaden agenda, it’s no longer just about farm laws

Rakesh Tikait, a leader representing the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said “sarkari Taliban and their commanders” had been identified, referring to the government and bureaucrats as “Taliban”.
Farmers, largely from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, are on protest since November last year, demanding a rollback of a set of laws to liberalise the farm sector in a challenge to the Modi government.(HT File Photo)
Farmers, largely from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, are on protest since November last year, demanding a rollback of a set of laws to liberalise the farm sector in a challenge to the Modi government.(HT File Photo)
Updated on Aug 31, 2021 06:15 AM IST
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By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Farm unions protesting three agricultural laws passed last year are broadening their agenda to oppose the Modi government’s major economic policies, including the new asset monetization programme, which, they claim, will impact the farm sector directly.

A key farm union leader, Gurnam Singh Charuni, accused the Union government of harbouring a secret agenda to “kill farmers and their leaders” by unleashing brutal police force -- an allegation that follows a bloody put-down of a farm protest in Haryana’s Karnal on Saturday.

Rakesh Tikait, a leader representing the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said “sarkari Taliban and their commanders” had been identified, referring to the government and bureaucrats as “Taliban”.

“Haryana has always been a land of farmers’ activism. But never before we have seen such brutality. Both the state and central governments have a secret agenda to kill farmers and farm leaders through police beatings,” Gurnam Singh Charuni, a top leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha said.

A redrawn agenda of the unions is likely to be unveiled on September 5, when a major mahapanchayat (rural rally) is slated to be held in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar.

Farmers, largely from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, are on protest since November last year, demanding a rollback of a set of laws to liberalise the farm sector in a challenge to the Modi government.

On Saturday, a farmer, Sushil Kajal, died after returning from a protest in Haryana’s Karnal, where protestors faced heavy police crackdown. State authorities have denied he died from the beating, saying the deceased had a heart condition.

A viral video showing a Haryana sub-divisional magistrate, Ayush Sinha, issuing a set of instructions in which he asked a posse of riot policemen to “break the heads” of protesting farmers has riled farm unions. Thousands of farmers gathered at the spot of the police action on Monday to demand action against the official and policemen.

At a press conference in Chandigarh, Haryana chief minister ML Khattar said the officer’s “choice of words” was not correct but action would be taken on the basis of an assessment by the local administration.

Deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala also said he did not approve of the 2018-batch IAS officer’s choice of words and that the latter would face action.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha has held a series of meeting since. One of its members, requesting anonymity because the new plans were not officially adopted yet, said its demands would no longer be about just a repeal of the three laws.

“We will oppose all of the (Union) government’s economic policies. Farmers will oppose privatisation of assets recently announced because they will directly impact farmers,” he said.

The farm leader said the new “privatization” plan includes “selling off” warehouses of the state-run Food Corporation of India.

Last week, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled a 6 lakh crore National Monetisation Pipeline to lease out assets to the private sector to unlock capital. The finance minister rejected charges that the plan amounted to privatization.

The farm unions said they would choke major cities and centres with large demonstrations in the next few weeks.

Under the monetization plans, the government plans to lease out warehousing assets owned by state-owned firms FCI over the next four years for an estimated 28,900.

“This means costs of storing grains will increase. Ultimately, public and farmers will have to suffer. That is why I have been saying that this government is run by two-three big corporations, not a political party,” Tikait said.

In their new agenda, the farm unions will also include issue such as unemployment and functioning of the national rural employment guarantee scheme.

“The crackdown in Karnal in which a farmer died will increase the stalemate because the police used unprecedented force. Such tactics ultimately will preclude any scope for dialogue,” said Sudhir Panwar, a professor with Lucknow University.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022