The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSSC) has evicted its own national convenor V.M. Singh from his position. Mr. Singh had said he was willing to hold separate discussions with the government, focussing on demands related to a minimum support price (MSP) law, rather than repeal of the three contentious agricultural marketing laws . At the same time, Punjab farm unions distanced themselves from the human rights-related protests of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), which has also decided not to participate in Monday’s hunger strike.
These divisions have emerged among farmers groups as the protests on the borders of Delhi entered the 19th day. Talks with the Union government broke down after five rounds of discussions as farmers demanded full repeal of the three laws, while the government only offered some amendments.
Mr. Singh, who leads an organisation of cane and paddy farmers in Uttar Pradesh, said he is willing to leave aside repeal of the laws, if the Centre will bring in law to guarantee MSP rates for all farm produce, from both public and private buyers. “These three laws will automatically become infructuous, if the MSP guarantee law is passed. That was always our original demand. [Other organisations] are now changing the goalposts,” he told The Hindu . “If the government invites us for talks, I am willing to negotiate on behalf of U.P. farmers.”
The repeal of the three laws would only return the country’s farmers to the status quo before June, and not give them any fresh benefit, while an MSP guarantee law would ensure increased income. “So far, we have supported the demand for repeal of the three laws, but we cannot support a deadlock. We cannot be so rigid. The welfare of farmers is paramount,” he said.
Over the last month, Mr. Singh has repeatedly broken ranks with other leaders in the AIKSCC, which is an umbrella platform for 250 plus farm groups across the country, created in the wake of the Mandsaur protests of 2017 . In the days before the Dilli Chalo campaign began, Mr. Singh urged farmers to protest at home, rather than coming to the capital, for fear of the pandemic. He was recovering from the COVID-19 infection himself at the time. Once farmers arrived in Delhi, he urged acceptance of the government’s designated protest site in Burari , to the anger of many of the Punjab unions. The last straw seems to be his willingness to negotiate separately with the Centre.
The AIKSCC working group met on Sunday night at the Singhu border and disassociated itself from Mr. Singh’s statements, and decided to do away with the convener’s post.
“The national movement had decided that the first priority must be the repeal of the three laws, as they will destroy agriculture itself. Our second demand is for the MSP guarantee law. We are fighting for that also,” said Hannan Mollah, a Left leader who is a part of the AIKSCC working group. “The government is trying to create divisions among us, so they can destroy the movement…[Mr. Singh] is being disruptive, and creating disharmony among farmers organisations, so we have removed him,” he added.
Among the Punjab groups, it is the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), one of the largest outfits in the State, which has emerged as the point of division. On December 10, which was Human Rights Day, its activists participating in the protests at Singhu border, held up banners demanding the release of jailed activists. Union Ministers immediately pointed to this as evidence that Leftist and Maoist elements have hijacked the protests.
Other farmer outfits have distanced themselves from these demands of the BKU-U. Harinder Singh, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal), told The Hindu that BKU-U had been asked to refrain from such demands in future. “Right now our focus should be on farmers and farm laws issue. I strongly believe that if anyone is wrongly kept in jail, they should be released, but this [farm agitation] is not the platform to raise that demand. We are making sure that the focus of this ongoing agitation does not deviate,” he stated.
BKU (Kadian) president Harmeet Singh said they have disassociated themselves from the BKU-U’s stance. “We disassociate ourselves from them on this issue. We need to understand that our focus should be on revoking farm laws and nothing else,” he sated
Notably, BKU-U and the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) are not part of the group of 32 farmer unions from Punjab.
BKU-U leaders also decided not to participate in Monday’s hunger strike. Its members, however, were participating in sit-ins in several parts of Punjab outside outside district collectorates.
“We are not participating in the hunger-strike. The decision was taken by members of the 30- odd farmer unions from Punjab. They didn’t ask us neither were we invited when the decision was taken,” Sukhdev Singh, general secretary, BKU-U, told The Hindu .
He, however, made it clear that this would not have any adverse affect of the ongoing movement. “We have been working in coordination with the 32 farmer unions since the agitation started. But at times there had been different decisions taken by them or us. But let me assure you that the aim of all of us is to get the farm laws revoked,” he said.