Farmers’ unions agitating against the three contentious farm laws on Sunday announced they were going ahead with their programme to hold a parallel tractor parade to mark Republic Day by organising a vehicles’ rally on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road. Making the announcement, leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a joint front of farmer unions, said the parade would be “peaceful” and no disruptions would be caused to the official ceremony.
The announcement came a day before the Supreme Court is slated to hear a plea by the Union government to injunct protesters from holding tractor marches to “disrupt” Republic Day celebrations. Earlier, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government expected the farmer unions to come up with a proposal other than the revocation of the three laws since the Supreme Court had now stayed the implementation of the three laws.
Saying that “soldiers were mere farmers in uniform”, Swaraj India national president Yogendra Yadav asserted at a press conference that the farmers too would celebrate the festival of republic. Mr. Yadav said that, as per the pre-announced programme, the parade would be held inside Delhi and tractors would travel on the 50-km-long Outer Ring Road. He added that weapons, provocative speeches and violence would not be allowed and there would be no attempts to attack or lay siege to buildings and places of national and historical importance.
Saying that all tractors would carry national flags and the flags of farmer unions, Mr. Yadav stressed that no disruption would be caused to the official Republic Day ceremony. He added that similar tractor parades would be held at district headquarters and State capitals across the country.
All-India Kisan Sabha general-secretary Hannan Mollah said the purpose of the tractor parade was to highlight the plight of the farmers.
Darshan Pal, president, Krantikari Kisan Union, Punjab, alleged that the National Investigation Agency was harassing those taking part in the agitation or supporting it. He said that people running langar s (community kitchens) or helping the "martyrs'" families were not just being sent notices, but also being slapped with cases of sedition. He said that the Morcha condemned this and was determined to fight it.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Tomar, speaking to the news agency ANI, said that the Union government now expected farmers’ unions to discuss the three farm laws clause-by-clause in the next meeting on January 19 since the Supreme Court had already stayed the implementation of the laws. He said the government was willing to consider the objections of the farmers’ unions to the three laws and discuss them with all seriousness and an open mind, if they were willing to put forth any proposal other than the revocation of the laws. He added that the laws were for the entire country and “most of the farmers, intellectuals, agriculturists and scientists favoured them”.
The Minister said the government had held nine rounds of talks and was willing to address the farmers’ concerns on various issues, including mandi s, registration of traders and registration of agreement for contract farming, but the unions were not ready to budge from their stance of seeking the repeal of the three laws.
Condemning the Minister’s statement ahead of the talks, Bharatiya Kisan Union general secretary Yudhveer Singh said the government had revealed its true intentions before the meeting and did not seem serious serious about considering the farmers’ demands. He, however, added that the unions would attend the meeting.
Mr. Singh also said that the farmers were determined to go ahead with their plan of a tractor parade, and added that the responsibility for any untoward incident if they were stopped would lie with the administration and the government.