New Delhi: A day after protesting farmers at the Tikri border were seen holding posters of detained activists Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam, several unions have reiterated the agitation is focused only on the farmers’ demands, and condemned “misuse” of the platform.
On Wednesday, a section of farmers from the Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta (Ugrahan) commemorated International Human Rights Day by holding posters of detained activists such as Khalid, Imam, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha, among others. A photographs of these farmers went viral on social media, with users saying the farmers’ protest had been “hijacked”.
In an address, the union’s state president Joginder Singh Ugrahan even demanded that all civil society activists and intellectuals who are currently in jail should be released.
This image is not from Shaheen Bagh.
This image is from on going farmers' protest where now the demand is to release the accused of Delhi riots and also the accused for alleged links with Naxals related to Bhima Koregaon violence. pic.twitter.com/bPfGV4cN4g
— Anshul Saxena (@AskAnshul) December 10, 2020
However, representatives from other farmer unions told ThePrint the protest should remain focused on the three farm bills, and that the posters had nothing to do with the movement.
“This could be a personal issue for any organisation or leader, but this is not the demand of our movement and it should not be linked with the whole farmers’ movement,” farmer leader Gurnaam Singh Chadhuni told ThePrint.
He added that no such demand was proposed or passed at the committee meeting of farmer leaders. “If one organisation does something in their own capacity, that should not be linked with the whole movement.”
‘Cannot comment on individual demands’
According to Abhimanyu Kohad, spokesperson of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, under which 500 farmer organisations are participating in the protests, the movement is primarily focused on farmers’ issues and they could not comment on demands by individuals and particular groups.
“We have only four demands: The farm bills should be taken back, the MSP guarantee should be implemented, the proposed Electricity Amendment Bill 2020 should be repealed and the exploitation of farmers in the name of stopping stubble burning should end. All the farmers who have come to Delhi to protest have demands only related to their own issues,” Kohad told ThePrint.
Several union leaders also condemned the ‘misuse’ of the farmers’ platform.
Akshay Narwal, state president of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, said, “Farmers have nothing to do with Umar Khalid or anybody else. Sometimes innocent farmers are handed over the posters and they do not even realise what it means. Who has to be arrested or who has to be released, this has nothing to do with us and our protest.”
Others believed it was a ploy by the government to shift focus from the core issues of the protest
Yudhveer Singh Sehrawat, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Tikait), told ThePrint, “We are not separatists or anti-nationals. This is another attempt to divert attention from the real issues of the farmers. This is to create an atmosphere where the farmers turn against each other. But we do not support such acts.”
Khap representative Dharmender Sangwan said: “All the members of khaps who have come here from Haryana do not support this. We do not support any anti-national and are here only to raise issues related to the farmers, we did not come to Delhi for any other issues.”
Congress leader Bhupender Chaudhary, who is a member of the Bhartiya Kisan Union Haryana, said they did not endorse the Wednesday incident.
“Those who are calling us anti-national should know that every tenth jawan from Haryana is in the defence or paramilitary forces. This movement is solely dedicated to the farmers,” he told ThePrint.
Demand for release of activists
However, Sukhdev Singh, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta (Ugrahan), which organised the contentious event, said the demand to release these activists was part of the official communication with the government by several farmer organisations in November.
According to Singh, on 13 November, 30 farmers’ organisations had written to Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar with six demands — one of which was the withdrawal of cases against farmer leaders, intellectuals, poets, lawyers, writers and human rights activists, and also the release of those jailed in false cases.
Singh claimed that the letter was signed by prominent farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal of the Bhartiya Kisan Union. ThePrint tried reaching Rajewal through a phone call for a confirmation but did not get a response.