Thousands of agitating farmers from Punjab crossed Haryana on Thursday and are now trying to enter Delhi demanding repeal of the three farm laws enacted by the Centre. They have been joined by farmers in Haryana. Water cannons, tear gas were used to stop farmers at the Haryana-Punjab border near Ambala, but the protesters removed iron barricades, cement barriers, piles of sandbags and even deflated tyres of trucks lined up to stop the protesters marching towards Delhi.
On Friday, there was commotion in Bhiwani, Haryana, when a speeding truck crashed into a farmer’s tractor trolley killing him on the spot. The farmers laid the victim’s body on the highway in protest. Police had a tough time persuading the farmers to move on. In Delhi, several stadiums are being kept ready to accommodate farmers in temporary jails, while Metro services from Haryana and UP to Delhi have been suspended.
Thousands of motorists, commuters and common citizens in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi were inconvenienced because of disruption of traffic. The farmers may have valid reasons to register their protest against the farm laws, but these can be ironed out through discussions with the Agriculture ministry. The Centre has already invited farmers for talks on December 3, but the farmers’ Delhi march has precipitated matters. The farmers are demanding that minimum support price system must be incorporated in the farm law, but the fact is that, for decades, minimum support pricing system has been part of administrative decisions taken by the Centre. It was never part of any farm law.
The farmers are complaining that maize, cotton and pulses are being purchased from them at prices lower than the MSPs. The Centre has clarified that if anybody purchases farm produces at prices lower than the MSP, it is legally a crime. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has challenged that he would quit politics if any farmer came forward and proved that his produce was bought a prices lower than the MSP. Actually, the issues relating to MSPs and agricultural marketing committees (mandis) are such which can be ironed out through talks, provided that both the government and farmers’ organisations are sincere about their intentions.
I think that the intentions are sincere on both sides, but the problem has been complicated by middlemen who had been milking farmers for centuries. The Modi government wants to eliminate middlemen so that farmers can get fair remuneration for their produce. It was with this intention that the government had brought the new farm laws, but middlemen are trying to muddy waters. They are strongly opposing the new laws and are therefore trying to misguide and mislead the farmers. Middlemen want that the new laws be withdrawn and they would be happy to see farmers being lathicharged and teargassed so that they can portray them as victims.
One can easily realize the amount of politicization that is going on, if one reads the twitter handles of Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh, and Congress leaders like Priyanka Gandhi and Randeep Surjewala. They are trying their best to fan anger among farmers. The agitating farmers must realize who are the politicians and middlemen who are trying to misuse them for their own benefit.
Farmers’ organisation should avoid falling into the trap of middlemen, and start direct talks with the Centre for the benefit of all stakeholders. Already Delhi is going through the third big wave of Covid pandemic and the farmers should avoid coming out on the streets for their own safety. The virus can infect thousands even if a handful of people are infected, and this may really cause worries to the families of farmers waiting for them to return home.
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