Rahul Gandhi likely to join farmers’ protest in Punjab
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is likely to lead a protest in Punjab this week in support of farmers agitating against the government over three farm laws passed by Parliament last week, people familiar with the development said.
Gandhi is also expected to address a rally, the date and venue of which is being finalised, a Congress leader said.
“After Punjab, he may join the protesting farmers in Haryana. But we are not sure if the BJP government in Haryana will allow him to enter the state,” said the leader quoted above.
The protest rally is part of the Congress party’s ongoing two-month-long nationwide agitation programme against the government over the three farm laws.
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The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were cleared by both the Houses of Parliament last week, triggering widespread protests, especially in Punjab and Haryana.
President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday gave his assent to the three contentious bills, despite the Opposition urging him to return them and only sign once they were passed after proper rules and procedures were followed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed the laws a “watershed moment” in the history of Indian agriculture, which will empower millions of farmers.
In his monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’ broadcast on Sunday, he said a large number of farmers have benefited since fruits and vegetables were brought out of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) Act in some states a few years ago, and asserted that grain-producing peasants will now have the same freedom.
However, the move saw the exit of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s oldest allies, from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Its Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal also resigned from the Modi government.
Gandhi, after returning on Tuesday from the United States where he had accompanied his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a routine health check-up, did not attend the proceedings or join the Opposition’s protests in Parliament on the last day of the monsoon session on Wednesday in view of the protocols being followed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, he has been repeatedly raising the issue on the social networking site, Twitter.
In a video message as part of the Congress party’s ‘Speak up for Farmers’ campaign on Saturday, Gandhi told farmers that they were being persistently attacked.
“First demonetisation, then GST, then you were not given a single rupee at the time of coronavirus, attempt was being made to kill you (farmers), you are being made a slave of corporates, and now these three deadly bills,” he said.
“We are standing with you (farmers) and together we will stop these bills. I want to say to the government—you have made a very big mistake. If farmers hit the streets, it will result in tremendous damage. Don’t waste time, withdraw these laws immediately and give guarantee on MSP (minimum support price) to farmers,” Gandhi said.
On Thursday, the Congress launched its “mass movement” against the government over “anti-farmer, anti-poor and black laws”.
The party has also decided to collect two crore signatures from protesting farmers against the proposed legislations.
By announcing nearly two months of protests, the principle Opposition party is seeking to regain some of the political space it has lost over the years by targeting the farmers of the country. India has about 146 million farmer, going by operational land holdings, according to an agriculture census of 2015-16.
The Congress is also seeing the issue as a 2015 moment when Sonia Gandhi played a key role in bringing 14 Opposition parties together against the proposed land acquisition bill that forced the BJP-led government to withdraw the controversial ordinance and shelve the idea of bringing a new legislation to replace the 2013 Act.
As part of the programme, the Congress will hold several press conferences across the country. On Monday, senior leaders from states will walk to the respective Raj Bhavans and submit a memorandum on the farms bills to governors to be handed over to the President.
On October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Congress will observe ‘Kisan-Mazdoor Bachao Divas (Save Farmers and Farm Labourers Day)’.
There will be protests and demonstrations in every district across the country demanding the immediate withdrawal of the laws.
On October 10, state-level conferences will be held, and from October 2 to October 31, the party will collect signatures from 20 million farmers from all parts of the country.
On November 14, the birth anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a memorandum, along with signatures of 20 million farmers, will be submitted to the President.