Approximately one lakh farmers belonging to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha-Non Political (SKM-NP), a splinter group of the original SKM, started preparations for a rally in Delhi on Tuesday seeking guaranteed minimum support prices (MSPs) for their produce. The first round of talks with the Union government on this demand had collapsed on Thursday, and farmers from neighbouring States have been gathering in preparation for a march to the national capital on Monday.
SKM-NP leader Shiv Kumar Kakka, who is also a former RSS functionary, was detained by the Madhya Pradesh police on Sunday. Though he was released after about three hours, farmer leaders told The Hindu that they are considering a boycott of the second round of discussions with Union Ministers, scheduled to be held on Monday, in protest against his detention.
At the first round of talks on Monday, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal, MoS Agriculture Arjun Munda, and MoS Home Nityanand Rai told the the farmers that their demands could not be accepted without consulting multiple Ministries.
‘Destroying the atmosphere’
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Sidhupur) president Jagjit Singh Dallewal, a senior leader of the SKM-NP, told The Hindu over phone from Chandigarh that the Union government was destroying the atmosphere by arresting leaders who should be part of the discussions. “On the one hand, the government is saying it is ready for discussions. On the other hand, they have arrested hundreds of our leaders and supporters. By doing this, the Centre has made it clear that it has no intentions to address the issues of farmers,” Mr. Dallewal said.
Mr. Kakka said that he was on his way to Chandigarh when the arrest took place. “I was about to board a train to Chandigarh to participate in Monday’s discussions. I was arrested and taken to the police station. I understand that hundreds of SKM-NP’s activists have also been sent to jail. I was released after three hours. But I will go to Chandigarh at any cost to participate in the protests. The Centre is vitiating the atmosphere by arresting farmers,” he said.
The farmers have a seven-point charter of demands: guaranteed MSP as per the M.S. Swaminathan Commission’s formula, freedom from debt for farmers; hiked import duties on all agricultural products; cancellation of all free trade agreements and other deals with the World Trade Organisation; no privatisation of electricity boards; a ban on Foreign Direct Investment and corporatisation in agriculture; and a pension for farmers.
SKM, CTUs call for strike
The original SKM, which has similar demands, has also announced a rural and industrial strike on February 16, in collaboration with ten Central Trade Unions (CTUs). In a joint statement here on Sunday, the SKM and the unions urged the Narendra Modi-led government to learn lessons from the growing discontent among the farming community and workers of European countries and reconsider its pro-corporate policies, which are being intensified in India.
“SKM has strongly objected to the policy proposed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to permit corporate forces, including trans-national corporations, to take over post-harvest operations in agriculture, control and dominate food production, and the value-added consumer product market. Corporate agriculture is not a panacea for the agrarian crisis; rather, it will further deteriorate the plight of the farmers and workers in India,” the statement said.
The SKM said that the rural bandh on February 16 would take place from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., with all agricultural activities, works under MGNREGA scheme, and other rural and farm works being boycotted. “The supply and purchase of vegetables, other crops will remain suspended; all the village shops, grain markets, vegetable markets, government and non government offices, rural, industrial and service sector institutions and enterprises in private sector are requested to remain closed. The shops and establishments of towns remain closed for the strike hours,” the SKM said, adding that normal public and private transport would remain off the roads.
“Ensure passage to emergency services of ambulance, death, marriage, medical shops, newspaper supply, board exam candidates, and passengers to the airport,” the SKM said in the statement.