Farmer groups have rejected the Home Minister’s conditional invitation for talks, and refused to shift to the designated protest grounds in Burari grounds, calling it an “open jail”.
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, are massed at the borders of Delhi, demanding the repeal of the Centre’s three agricultural reform laws and withdrawal of an electricity Bill. Equipped with rations that could last for months, they threatened to block five of the entry points into the capital if their demands were not heard.
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“The Centre’s condition to hold talks is an insult to farmers. We will never go to the Burari ground. It is not a ground, it is an open jail,” said Surjeet Singh Phul, State president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union Krantikari, speaking at a press conference held at the Singhu border point on Sunday evening. “When a group of farmers from Uttarakhand arrived in Delhi today, they said they wanted to go to Jantar Mantar, and the Delhi Police said they would be taken there. But instead, they were taken to Burari and held there,” he added. Jantar Mantar, near Parliament, is a more visible and high-profile protest site than the Burari grounds located in the northeastern corner of the city.
Noting that farmers have hauled along bedding and food rations for at least four months in their tractors, Mr. Phul added that the protestors are prepared to stay for the long term and block five of Delhi’s entry-exit points.
In a letter dated November 28, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to the 31 farmers’ unions from Punjab, reiterating Home Minister Amit Shah’s late night appeal to farmers to move to the grounds in northeastern Delhi, following which they will be called for a meeting by the Centre. “If you shift to the Burari grounds, then the very next day the Centre government will hold talks with you, with a high level committee of Union Ministers at Vigyan Bhavan,” said the letter.
The Punjab and Haryana farmers unions held an internal consultation on Sunday morning, and decided they would stay put at the Singhu and Tikri border crossing points. They vowed not to allow any political party on their protest stage, to defuse allegations of vested interests driving the campaign.
On his part, Mr. Shah said he was not attributing such motives to the agitation. “I never called the farmers’ protest politically motivated, neither am I calling it now,” he told news agency ANI in Hyderabad, where he is campaigning for the municipal elections.
Some farmer leaders deplored the government’s failure to invite the all-India alliances and other regional outfits participating in the protest to join the talks. “It is not only the farmers of Punjab and Haryana who are against these Bills. Our brothers from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and many other States are also protesting at Delhi’s borders,” said Darshan Pal, president of the Kisan Krantikari Union.
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Leaders also expressed scepticism about the government’s offer for talks, saying that two previous rounds of dialogue had shown that the government had nothing to offer, and there had been no concrete response to the specific concerns and demands that farmers had presented in writing.
“Instead of responding to the main demands of repealing of three black laws and the withdrawal of the Electricity Bill, 2020 the government is doing its best to move the debate to where the farmers should camp,” said a statement from the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, one of the alliances leading the protest, which includes ten of the Punjab unions.
“The government, if it is serious about addressing the demands of farmers, should stop laying down any conditions (“you move to Burari Grounds in a ‘structured way’ and then we will start a dialogue the next day”), should stop assuming that the dialogue can be about “an explanation to farmers about the benefits of the Acts” and should come straight out with a proposal about the solution it is offering. The farmers are clear about their demands,” said the statement.