Addressing a massive gathering at a Kisan Mahapanchayat in Haryana on Sunday, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait declared that he will take the ongoing protest against the farm reform Bills to the far corners of the country.
Farmers, in their thousands, flocked to the mega meeting at Kitlana toll plaza on Charkhi Dadri-Bhiwani national highway (NH-148B) near Bhiwani. Apart from Tikait, who is believed to be spearheading the revitalised protest, top farmer leaders from Punjab such as Balbir Singh Rajewal and Dr. Darshan Pal were the other keynote speakers at the gathering on Sunday.
A separate mahapanchayat was held at Sunheda in the Mewat area of Haryana, almost 160 kms away from Kitlana toll plaza, drawing a sizeable turnout. The demand for full rollback of the ‘black’ laws was reiterated at the Sunheda gathering, which was addressed by another prominent BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni.
Chaduni said the agitation now is not limited to some states but is fast spreading across the country. Flanked by local religious leaders, across faiths, Chaduni raised the slogan, “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai, Aapas Me Hain Bhai-Bhai (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are brothers), projecting unity.
At Kitlana toll plaza, Tikait said, “We will go to the far corners of the country to raise awareness (against the three farm Bills brought by the Centre). Ours is a mass movement and we will make it successful. We won’t return home till these laws are repealed.”
Stating there will be attempts to break the agitation on caste lines, the farmer leader said, “When this agitation started, they tried to divide us on the lines of Punjab and Haryana as well as Sardars and non-Sardars (Sikhs). The Sardars cannot be separated from us.
They will also try to divide us on the basis of Khaps but we have to rise above such differences and stand united. We have forged a unity this time and have to keep it intact. I congratulate the 40-member committee of farmer leaders not one of whom is weak.”
Senior Khap leaders, including independent MLA from Dadri, Sombir Sangwan, who withdrew support to the BJP-JJP government in Haryana over the farm laws, were also present at the gathering. Invoking the role of the Khaps in the country’s freedom struggle, Tikait said, “Khaps fought against the Britishers too. Whenever the country needed them, they came out offering support and help. We need them to stand with us today.”
The mahapanchayat insisted on the full rollback of the “anti-farmer laws”, a legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for crops and withdrawal of cases filed against farmers involved in the protest. Raising the storming of the iconic Red Fort complex by farmers on Republic Day, Tikait said, “The farmers were taken to the Red Fort by deceit. We won’t tolerate such tactics.”
Former Haryana IAS officer SK Goyal, who was also among the gathering, said, “The protesters are being labelled as ‘anti-nationals’, ‘jihadis’ and ‘urban Naxals’, who are being funded by ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Khalistanis’, from the day the farmer agitation became a mass movement. But the government won’t be able to demonise the protest.”
A former special secretary (Home) in the Haryana government, Goyal has addressed meetings across villages in the state, apprising locals on the “adverse effects of the three farm laws”. “More than 150 farmers have died during the ongoing protest but the government remains unmoved,” Goyal said, adding that he hoped that good sense will eventually prevail. He also demanded ex-gratia of Rs.1 crore each for the kin of farmers who lost their lives during the ongoing stir, a job each to the next-of-kin of the deceased and the “status of shaheed on those who embraced martyrdom during the agitation”.
Saying that he was disturbed by the events that unfolded on Republic Day, he claimed that the government has done precious little to apprehend the likes of Deep Sidhu (a key accused in the violence on January 26), whose video had gone viral. He said an ‘innocent journalist’ (Mandeep Punia) was picked up, instead, by the police. Urging the authorities not to frame farmers and journalists in false cases, he said they won’t be cowed down by such tactics to silence their voices.