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More unions join stir, up ante over farmer’s death

By, Patiala/new Delhi
Feb 23, 2024 04:17 AM IST

All eyes are now on whether the unions decide to resume their attempted march to the national capital after a two-day pause.

The death of a 21-year-old protester at the Punjab-Haryana border appeared to galvanise disparate farm unions on Thursday as cultivator groups upped the ante of their two-week-long protests, demanding murder charges against the police, as well as the chief minister and home minister of Haryana, and announcing a slew of new joint programmes.

Tractors and trolleys of the protesting farmers parked on a highway during their ongoing protest over various demands, including a legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for crops, at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu Border, in Patiala district, on Thursday. (PTI)
Tractors and trolleys of the protesting farmers parked on a highway during their ongoing protest over various demands, including a legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for crops, at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu Border, in Patiala district, on Thursday. (PTI)

All eyes are now on whether the unions decide to resume their attempted march to the national capital after a two-day pause, announced due to the death of Bathinda resident Shubh Karan Singh, ends on Friday.

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The call for intensified protests – including a “Jan Aakrosh” rally on Friday, a nationwide tractor rally on highways on February 26, and a mahapanchayat in Delhi’s Ramlila Ground on March 14 – was given by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) which had till Thursday stayed away from the stir.

“Haryana Police entered Punjab, fired at us and also broke our tractors. A case under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code should be registered against the Haryana CM and Haryana’s home minister. A judicial inquiry should be conducted. On March 14, a mahapanchayat of farmers will be held at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi,” said SKM leader Balbir Singh Rajewal after a meeting of the powerful union – which forced the roll-back of three contentious farm laws in 2021 – in Chandigarh.

The current agitation, which began on February 13, was led by a splinter group of the SKM, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (non-political), and the Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangh Committee (KSMC). But SKM’s decision to initiate protests indicated that the death of Singh – the first such casualty due to direct police action across the 2020-21 farm stir and the ongoing agitation – had brought together, at least temporarily, feuding farm unions.

ALSO READ: Farmers' protest: How did Shubhkaran Singh die at Khanauri border?

KSMC head Sarwan Singh Pandher said separately that the cultivators will be open to talks with the government, but only if a legal guarantee for crop minimum support price (MSP) was on the agenda.

“We have not received any invitation for another round of talks with the Union government. If we get an invite, we will consider only if the agenda of the meeting is a legal guarantee to MSP. We are open for talks,” said Pandher.

He also accused Haryana security personnel of entering into the Punjab territory and using “force” against farmers at Khanauri border point. “We want the Punjab government to register a case under Section 302,” said Pandher.

The farmer leader added that the groups will discuss within themselves on when to resume their protest. “The protest is going on very peacefully. We – all the farmer leaders – will hold a meeting on the future course of action of the protest. Only after assessing the situation at Khanauri, where hundreds of farmers have been hurt, will we be able to take a decision on our next action in the ongoing protest,” said Pandher.

Jagjit Singh Dallewal, the leader of SKM (non-political), has been admitted to Government Rajindra Hospital in Patiala, where he demanded that the Punjab government give Singh the status of a martyr.

Thousands of farmers have been camped at the Punjab-Haryana border since last week, demanding a law on minimum support prices (MSP) for 23 crops and other pro-cultivator measures. But four rounds of talks gave way to violence on Wednesday, leading to the deadliest clashes since the stir was first announced on February 13.

The two Punjab-Haryana border points – Khanauri and Shambhu – were the epicentre of the clashes as police personnel fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to scatter the farmers trying to march to Delhi, days after they rejected a government offer on prices for their produce, prompting an offer of fresh talks. Doctors at the Rajendra Hospital said Singh died of bullet injuries but refused to specify the type of bullet found.

The post-mortem of the 21-year-old Shubh Karan Singh — whose dead body has been kept in the mortuary of Government Rajindra Hospital — could not be conducted on Thursday as farmer leaders have demanded that Punjab government should give the status of a martyr to Shubhkaran.

Even as unions leading the protest were busy organising Singh’s funeral, the stir got a boost as the SKM announced a series of protests. A case of murder should be registered over the death of the farmer at Khanauri border and his family be given 1 crore in compensation, Rajewal told reporters.

The SKM announcement came after the meeting in Chandigarh where it also decided to burn effigies of Union home minister Amit Shah and his Haryana counterpart Anil Vij to condemn the police action.

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) president Joginder Singh Ugrahan condemned the “repression” of farmers sitting at Shambhu and Khanauri. Farm leader Rakesh Tikait said a tractor march will be taken out on highways on February 26 and accused Khattar and Vij of “orchestrating” the attack on protesters.

Besides MSP, the farmers from Punjab are also demanding the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations on farm prices, pension for farmers and farm labourers, no hike in electricity tariffs, and repealing of police cases filed during the 2021 agitation.

The government, meanwhile, cited the fresh hike in cane prices to contend it was committed to farmers’ welfare. “India is paying the highest price for sugarcane in the world,” Union minister for information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur said, briefing reporters on Thursday.

The two sides have held talks four times. During the last one, the government offered an assured, five-year purchasing contract with various cooperative societies.All of the talks ended in an impasse, with the latest prompting the cultivators to resume their stir.

Urging farmers to resume negotiations, Thakur said the government was “ready for talks earlier and (we) are ready even today and will be ready to discuss their issues even today”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, said his administration was committed to farmers, although he did not allude to the agitation on the Haryana-Punjab border directly. “Our government is committed to fulfil every resolve related to the welfare of our farmer brothers and sisters across the country,” Modi posted on X earlier on Thursday, and referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to raise the floor price that mills must pay for sugar cane by 8%.

Later on Thursday, while addressing a large gathering of mostly cattle-rearers and farmers at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad’s Motera, Modi said listed government schemes meant to help them.

“We are giving priority to each and every aspect of villages and our focus is on improving the lives of small farmers, on improving the health of livestock and how farmers get more income through allied activities such as fishing and bee-keeping. That is why we have decided to give Kisan credit cards to fishermen and cattle-rearers, too,” he said.

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

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