Rajat Sharma


akbFarmer leaders on Thursday gave clear indications that their agitation will be a long drawn one. On Friday, they observed ‘Black Day’ after a farmer, Subhkaran Singh, died of wounds. Punjab government has announced Rs 1 crore compensation and a government job for his family. The farmers will take out “tractor march” on highways on Monday (Feb 26) and a Mahapanchayat will be held at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on March 14. The farmers are demanding a law to guarantee minimum support price for their crops. Cracks have appeared in the unity among farmer outfits, when Rakesh Tikait-led Samyukta Kisan Morcha leaders said, though they supported the Punjab farmers’ agitation, they will not take part in the stir. The Punjab farmers’ agitation is being spearheaded by Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM). These organisations have refused to resume talks with the Centre alleging that the government was resorting to atrocities on protesters. The stand-off is on at Shambhu and Kanauri border points of Haryana-Punjab, where thousands of farmers are camping as part of the ‘Delhi Chalo’ call. Videos of clashes between security forces and protesters on Wednesday at Khanauri clearly show that the police were not armed with guns or pistols. They were trying to stop the protesters by using ‘lathis’ (sticks), while the protesters were pelting stones. These videos clearly belie the claims being made by farmer leaders that the protesters were trying to move forward peacefully. In one of the videos, protesters were seen setting fire to paddy stubble (parali), dousing it with water and then throwing chilli powder on the smoke, resulting in policemen rushing for cover to protect their eyes. In the melee, protesters attacked the police force, resulting in serious injuries to 12 policemen. Police officials alleged that some anti-social elements have joined the protesters and the attack on police was pre-planned. A forensic team on Thursday collected remains of burnt paddy stubble from the spot to check whether chilli powder was mixed. Union Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda has appealed to farmers to exercise restraint and come forward for talks to iron out all differences. On the other hand, farmer leaders have refused to join talks. They have alleged that the atmosphere is not right for holding talks. Meanwhile, reporters are having a difficult time to find out what it is going on in the minds of farmer leaders. Reporters are being barred from entering the area where the farmer leaders are camping. In several instances, reporters have been assaulted. Both the police and protesters have come up with separate videos and it has become difficult for reporters to ascertain the truth. Farmer leaders claim that at least 14 farmers have been injured, while police officials say, 12 policemen have been admitted to hospital. In one place, some injured protesters showed pellet injuries on their bodies, but police officials insist that pellet guns have not been used. Such claims and counter-claims indicate that both the police and farmer leaders are trying to take care about public perception. In one of the videos that I watched, policemen were shown deflating tractor tyres and opening fuel tanks to throw away diesel on the road. Their aim was to stop the tractors from proceeding forward. It is difficult to ascertain the date, time and place of recording of this video. Political parties are making statements in public that suit them. While Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal is targeting Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, the latter is holding the Centre responsible for the present impasse. The present stalemate is because of this all-pervading confusion. Students are the hardest hit, because they have to appear in board examinations. On Thursday, when one of the farmer leaders clearly said that this confrontation would continue till the elections, it was cause for worry for common people. The longer this agitation continues, it will cause crores of rupees worth loss to thousands of traders and businessmen.

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