Farmers’ Delhi protest: Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal share stage
The ‘Kisan Mukti March’ on Friday brought Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party on the same platform, as leaders from 23 opposition parties rallied behind farmers from several states, pledging unstinted support to their demands.
An estimated 15,000 farmers, gathered in the Ramlila Maidan in the national capital since Thursday, marched about 3km to Parliament Street, skirting the outer periphery of Connaught Place, the central commercial hub.
The two principal demands of the protesting farmers are higher prices for their produce and loan waivers to alleviate hardships. The protesters, many of them waving red, yellow and green flags, also want the passage of two farmer-oriented private member’s bills endorsed by 23 Opposition parties, in a special session of Parliament. The march was organised under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of about 200 farmer organisations from across the country.
“There are leaders from other parties here. We can have different ideologies. But we are united in extending support for the cause of farmers and youths of the country,” Gandhi told the gathering from a stage opposite the Jantar Mantar monument. “We want to tell Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) — if we have to change laws or even change the PM, we will ensure better future for farmers, no matter what you do.”
Kejriwal, who joined the rally in the middle of Gandhi’s speech and later shook hands with the Congress leader, alleged that Modi had “stabbed farmers in the back” by not fulfilling promises made to them and warned him that they would “wreak havoc” in the 2019 elections if those promises were not kept.
“The Centre’s crop insurance scheme is a big scam. The insurance firms withdraw money from bank accounts without informing farmers. You (farmers) did not get any claims,” said the Delhi CM. This was perhaps the first time that the two leaders addressed a rally from the same stage.
The rally comes ahead of a crucial meeting of Opposition leaders in Delhi on December 10 to firm up a joint strategy to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and put in place the basic contours of a Mahagathbandhan, or Grand Alliance.
Along with the controversial Rafale jets deal, opposition leaders will also raise the issues of farmers’ distress, price rise, the state of the economy, and the infighting in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Winter session of Parliament starting December 11.
Among the other leaders who attended the rally were Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, D Raja of the Communist Party of India, Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party’s Dharmedra Yadav and Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was the only prominent opposition party that did not participate.
“Farmers of the country are suffering.... We are here to wake up the government and ask them to take steps to resolve farmers’ issues or else we will throw them out in 2019. We will support the agitation unless the [private member’s] bills are passed in Parliament,” Pawar said.
Yechury accused the BJP of pursuing divisive politics to divert the attention of farmers and the country from its governance failures. “We should rise against the BJP’s divisive politics and be united in speaking for the cause of farmers,” he said.
Trivedi, from the Trinamool Congress , the CPI(M)’s arch rival in West Bengal, echoed Yechury’s views. “We consider this gathering as our parliament. Let us pass a resolution of demands which the other Parliament has to support,” he said.
Widows of farmers from Telangana, who committed suicide after they did not get adequate compensation from the government, also joined the protest, carrying their husbands’ portraits.
“This is a historic occasion when farmers, supported by urban middle class have started speaking out. The agitation has moved beyond protests and farmers have even suggested solutions by framing two bills which are already in Parliament. Let’s pledge to not vote for the party that is not supporting us,” said Yogendra Yadav, president of Swaraj India and an AIKSCC working committee member.
“2018 is turning out to be another year of farmer incomes not seeing a material pick-up. Higher minimum support prices have done little to lift crop profitability so far. The good news is the rural non-farm side is seeing better days,” said Dharmakirti Joshi, chief economist, CRISIL Ltd.