Massive march in Karnal as talks with farmers fail

Thousands of farmers surrounded a key government building in Haryana chief minister’s bastion of Karnal on Tuesday evening, holding a massive show of strength and intensifying their protest over controversial police action on agitating cultivators last month
Farmers at the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Karnal on Tuesday.(PTI)
Farmers at the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Karnal on Tuesday.(PTI)
Updated on Sep 08, 2021 04:35 AM IST
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By Neeraj Mohan, Hindustan Times, Karnal/chandigarh

Thousands of farmers surrounded a key government building in Haryana chief minister’s bastion of Karnal on Tuesday evening, holding a massive show of strength and intensifying their protest over controversial police action on agitating cultivators last month.

Farmers gathered at a mahapanchayat venue in Karnal, and later marched on foot to the mini secretariat building five kilometers away. They jumped over some barricades but didn’t face any serious police challenge on their way.

Three rounds of talks with the district administration dissuading the farmers from blocking the highway and marching into Karnal town had failed earlier in the day. “Our talks with administration failed as they did not agree to our demands,” senior Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said. “We have gheraoed the mini-secretariat. We don’t have to enter inside. We will sit outside peacefully,” farm leader Yogendra Yadav said.

This is the second mahapanchayat by farmers, who clashed with the government last year over three controversial central laws, in two days. On Sunday, farmers held a similar mega event in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

Karnal is the home constituency of Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar, who defended the August 28 police lathi charge that left some farmers injured and allegedly caused the death of one protester – a charge denied by the administration.

The farmers vowed not to lift the blockade till the government lodged a case of murder against sub-divisional magistrate Ayush Sinha, who was caught on tape allegedly telling policemen to “break heads” if protesters crossed the line. Singh has since been transferred. The cultivators also demanded 25 lakh compensation to the farmerwho died on August 28 and 2 lakh each to the injured farmers.

Farmers said that they will pitch tents at the entrance of the mini secretariat and that the sit-in protest will be organised on the lines of Singhu and Tikri border sites. For about nine months, farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other north Indian states have been sitting on the borders of the Capital to press for the repeal of the three laws.

As night fell, farmers squatted outside the mini secretariat, shared food and water, and shouted slogans in support of the agitation against the central laws. Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said the state government was not listening to the farmers. “The Khattar government should agree to our demands or else arrest us. We are ready to fill Haryana jails,” he tweeted. The farm unions had fixed September 6 as the deadline to meet the demands.

The day began on a tense note as farmers mobilised early in the morning at Karnal’s grain market even as the administration rushed 40 companies of paramilitary forces, diverted traffic, suspended mobile internet services in five districts, and barricading every corner of Karnal.

The administration had earlier signalled that it will not let the farmers march towards the town but later blinked after the massive mobilisation. Deputy commissioner Nishant Kumar Yadav, Karnal’s inspector general of police Mamta Singh and superintendent of police Ganga Ram Punia were among the officials who took part in the talks.

The administration invited an 11-member delegation, comprising BKU Haryana unit chief Gurnam Singh Charuni, Rakesh Tikait, Balbir Singh Rajewal and Darshan Pal, for talks but the negotiations broke down after three rounds. The farm leaders returned to the grain market to meet supporters and strategise.

Later in the day, the farmers began their march to the mini-secretariat. Police had installed several layers of barricades but the protesters removed them without facing police resistance.

Addressing the mahapanchayat earlier, Yadav said, “We have come to ask the government which Constitution, which law gives an IAS officer permission to give orders to break the farmers’ heads.... Under which law are police allowed to carry out brutal lathi charge resulting in the death of one and injuries to several others.”

In the afternoon, the Karnal district administration and police quoted ground intelligence reports and said that some “elements” had reached the grain market armed with lathis, iron rods and other weapons. They added that “all such elements will be strictly dealt with in accordance with law”.

“Ground intelligence reports indicate that some elements from Rambha, some from Nissing and some from other places have reached the Anaj Mandi armed with lathis, jellis, iron rods etc. It does not show a good intention on their part,” the administration said.

“Karnal district administration and police is warning such mischievous elements not to take the law into their hands and maintain public order. All such elements will be strictly dealt with in accordance with law,” a notice issued by the administration added.

The farmers launched their agitation against the three central laws last year, arguing that the new regulations will end government-regulated markets and assured minimum crop prices. The government has denied the allegations and offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months -- an offer rejected by the farm unions that press for complete repeal of the legislation.

On August 28, protesters were hurt in the clash with police in Karnal as farmers tried to march towards the venue of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) meeting, in which the chief minister and other senior state leaders were present. Farm leaders also claimed that a protester died later, an allegation rejected by the administration.

Hours after the clashes, a video clip showed Sinha was purportedly heard instructing a group of policemen: “Hit them hard…We shall not allow this cordon to be breached. We have enough force available. No one should break the cordon and reach me. If someone does, make sure he has a broken head.”

The IAS officer alleged the video was edited and consisted only of selected portions of his overall instructions to the police.

The viral clip triggered immediate outrage with the Opposition demanding a probe and the government sought a report from local officials. The CM admitted that Sinha’s choice of words was wrong but he defended the police action. Deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala also condemned Sinha’s instructions to the police and assured action against the officer.

The 2018-batch IAS officer has since been transferred out of Karnal and posted as additional secretary of Citizen Resources Information Department (CRID), as per a government order.

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Monday, October 18, 2021