Chandigarh: The Modi government’s bid to reach out to farmers protesting against the three new farm laws failed Wednesday as a delegation from Punjab walked out of a meeting with Union Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal.
Agarwal had invited the protesting farmers from Punjab for a meeting to try and assuage their apprehensions regarding the three new central farm acts. The Punjab farmers’ delegation comprised seven members of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which is spearheading the protests in the state.
The delegation met Agarwal at his office in Krishi Bhavan in Delhi, but walked out of the meeting after about an hour.
According to a video of the meeting, filmed by one of the participants and circulated among local news channels, the farmer leaders were disappointed that no central minister — even Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar — had bothered to attend the meeting.
They also pointed out that the government had invited them for talks even as union ministers travel through Punjab to “campaign” against the protesting farmers.
“These two things cannot go together. If Tomar can go to Sangrur and Barnala and campaign against us, then he should have the courage to meet us too,” said one of the representatives at the meeting.
The farmer leaders also told Agarwal that the ministers’ campaign in Punjab is “vitiating peace in the state”. A second representative said the central government is trying to “divide and rule” by creating differences among the farmers’ bodies.
At one point during the meeting, when the farmer leaders stood up from the chairs, Agarwal is seen trying to pacify them.
After they walked out of the meeting, the farmer leaders resorted to sloganeering and staged a protest outside the Krishi Bhavan. They also tore copies of the three farm acts.
The farmer leaders have now decided that protests across the state will be intensified. A meeting to discuss the future course of action is scheduled for Thursday in Chandigarh.
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Speaking to ThePrint, AIKSCC convener Dr Darshan Pal said “BJP central ministers” are “moving about in Punjab, spreading false propaganda about the three acts, but have no time to talk to us directly”.
“Today we were called not with the purpose of the government of India wanting to listen to us but to try and convince us to stop agitating. The government of India tried to make a mockery of our protests,” he added.
Shiromani Akali Dal president and MP Sukhbir Singh Badal, whose party split from the BJP in protest against the farm laws, said the government of India had “insulted the farmers of Punjab”.
“First, you call them for a meeting and then let a secretary-level officer talks to them. At least someone from the top leadership of the BJP, may be a minister or even the Prime Minister, should have sat with the delegation,” he told mediapersons Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has decided to convene a special session of the Vidhan Sabha Monday, 19 October, to bring in a legislation to counter the new farm laws.
A decision to this effect was taken at a video-link meeting of the Punjab cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh Wednesday.
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