Rajat Sharma

Farmers’ agitation: Will it be called off after December 4?

AKBFor the first time, there are indications from farmer leaders that their year-long agitation may be called off soon. A group representing 32 farmers’ organisations of Punjab said on Tuesday evening that the government has accepted most of their demands and there could be an agreement over calling off the agitation. At the Delhi-Haryana border point in Kundli on Tuesday, 32 jathas (groups) from Punjab, at a meeting, decided that they would place their proposal before the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, scheduled to meet on December 4, where a final decision will be taken.

Farmer leaders from Punjab made three important announcements on Tuesday.

One, the Centre has asked for five names of farmers’ representatives to be included in the proposed committee to prepare MSP legislation.

Two, the Centre has asked all states to withdraw all cases filed against farmers during the agitation.

Three, the 32 farmers’ ‘jathas’ from Punjab decided that since the Centre has repealed the three farm laws and has accepted most of their demands, there was no point in continuing the agitation. They decided to convince farmer leaders from other states about their point of view. They also decided that the Samyukta Kisan Morcha will not be wound up, but the December 4 meet will decide when the farmers will return home.

A late night press release from Samyukta Kisan Morcha said, there has been no formal communication from the agriculture ministry and that the ministry has only contacted a farmer leader from Punjab over phone seeking names of 5 SKM representatives for the panel which the Prime Minister has proposed to set up. The press release said the SKM will decide its future course of action once a written communication is received.

The Punjab farmer leader contacted by the Centre is Dr Satnam Singh Ajnala, who heads the Jamhoori Kisan Sabha. He told the jathas about the details of the MSP committee and about the five names of farmer leaders sought by the Centre. He said, Balbir Singh Rajewal could be one of the representatives. At the meeting, names of farm experts like Devendra Sharma, Sucha Singh Gill and Ranjit Singh Ghumman were also discussed. He also said that the Ministry of Home Affairs has advised states to withdraw all cases filed against farmers during the agitation. Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan governments have indicated their willingness, and farmer leaders from Haryana will meet chief minister M L Khattar on this issue.

One of the leaders of 32 Punjab jathas, Jangbir Singh of Doaba Kisan Committee said, they expect the Agriculture Minister to tell Parliament about the composition of the MSP committee and its terms of reference, along with a definite time frame. He said, the phone call from agriculture ministry came when the meeting of 32 jathas was on. It may be noted that the jatha leaders, in their meeting with Samyukta Kisan Morcha, on Monday had asked when the agitation would be called off, now that Parliament has repealed all the three farm laws. SKM leaders told them that the MSP issue and several other demands were still pending, and the struggle should continue. Once the government’s response comes on the list of farmers’ demands, a final decision will be taken.

The change in the views of farmer leaders was evident on the day of Guru Purab when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to the nation that his government would repeal all the three farm laws. At the Singhu border, farmers sitting on dharna rejoiced, and their leaders conveyed their views to the SKM, but at the Ghazipur border, Rakesh Tikait, representing farmers from western UP, was insistent that the agitation would continue.

BKU president Rakesh Tikait had pointed out that several committees on MSPs were formed in the past, but nothing fruitful came out. Tikait’s tone also changed after the Punjab farmer leaders said that it was time to think about calling off the agitation. On Tuesday, Tikait clearly said, that things are definitely moving towards an agreement. He also added one more demand. He said, several tractors of farmers that were parked at police stations, have become unusable and the government should give them new tractors in exchange. Akali Dal leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa also said that since the three farm laws have been repealed, there was no point in continuing with the agitation.

One thing is clear. All the 32 jathas from Punjab which took part in the agitation, now want that the movement should be called off. My information is that former Punjab chief minister Capt Amrinder Singh played a big role in persuading these farmer leaders to call off the agitation since the farm laws have been repealed. It was through him that the Centre conveyed to the farmers that cases of paddy stubble burning filed against farmers will not be pursued, and SKM representatives will be included in the proposed committee on MSP.

The farmers, too, find that this is the right time to call off the agitation and return home. They have been sitting on dharna for more than a year, and their leaders worry that they may lose support if the agitation is not called off now. During the last one year, there were instances when many farmers left for their homes and the tents were empty. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has also entered the scene and he has started talks with the Jat Khap leaders. It appears that farmers from Haryana and Punjab want to call off the agitation, but those from western UP led by Rakesh Tikait are still holding out.

One should realize that the 32 jathas from Punjab are the backbone of this agitation, and their views carry weight. It is because of their stand that Rakesh Tikait has now changed his tune and is now saying that the sooner the agitation is called off, the better.

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