Farmers gear up for peaceful Bharat Bandh today; BJP slams opposition
New Delhi, Dec 07: Thousands of farmers protesting against the Centre's new agri laws for the past 11 days here have called on people to join their 'Bharat Bandh' on Tuesday in large numbers. The December 08 Bharat Bandh will take place from 11 am to 3 pm as a "symbolic protest" to register grieving farmers' opposition about some policies of the central government.
"Tomorrow's Bharat Bandh is from 11 am to 3 pm. It is a symbolic protest. We will begin at 11 am so everyone can reach office on time... Services such as ambulance, even weddings, can go on. People can show their card and leave," Bharatiya Kisan Union Spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said.
Farmer leaders also welcomed the support of political parties to the nationwide strike against the laws and demanded that the legislations be repealed.
The Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party, CPI(M) and DMK are among the political parties that are backing the day-long strike.
Bhartiya Kisan Ekta Sangathan president Jagjit Singh Dallewala asked farmers to maintain peace and not to try enforce the shutdown. He said emergency services will be exempted during the bandh.
The leader also claimed the bandh will be effective across the country.
"The Modi government will have to accept our demands. We want nothing less than a withdrawal of the new farm laws," farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said.
The Centre and the farmer unions will hold the sixth round of talks a day after the bandh as previous discussions failed to end the deadlock.
Targeted by opposition parties, the BJP hit back and accused them of "shameful double standards", claiming many of them had endorsed these reforms when in power or had supported them in Parliament.
Senior BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the opposition parties have joined the agitation in a bid to save their existence after being repeatedly rejected by people in different elections across the country.
Prasad said a section of farmers has fallen in the grip of some people with "vested interests" and asserted that the government was working to address their misgivings about the reforms.
He appreciated the protesting farmer unions for not associating their stir with any political parties.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis too hit out at the opposition.
The agitating farmers have drawn support from various quarters including artists, sportspersons and workers'' groups.
Tuesday''s strike could impact the transport of goods as the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), the apex body of transporters representing about 95 lakh truckers and other entities, said it will suspend operations in the entire country to support the bandh.
The All India Railwaymen's Federation too extended support to the farmers and said its affiliates will organise dharna during lunch hour.
The railway union, which has around nine lakh members, is the latest to show solidarity with the agitating farmers, who have found support from transport unions and the joint forum of trade unions like the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
Traders'' body CAIT and the All India Transporters Welfare Association, however, said markets across the country including in Delhi will remain open and transport services will also remain operative.
While the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) claims to represent around seven crore traders, AITWA said it represents 60 to 65 per cent of the organised transport sector in the country.
Bank unions also said they will not participate in the Bharat Bandh on Tuesday, even as they expressed solidarity with farmers protesting against the new farm laws.
All India Bank Officers'' Confederation (AIBOC) General Secretary Soumya Datta said the union has expressed its solidarity with farmers but will not be participating in the Bharat Bandh called by them.
Similarly, All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA) General Secretary C H Venkatachalam said union members would wear black badges while on duty, stage protest after or before working hours and display placards before bank branches to support the cause of farmers of the country, but banking operations will not be hit.
The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Trinamool Congress, DMK and its allies, TRS, RJD, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party and the Left are among the political parties that are backing the strike.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati too tweeted on Monday in support of the bandh and appealed to the Centre to accept the farmers' demands.
Several of these parties have announced protest programmes for Tuesday while supporting the Bandh call by the farmer groups, who have maintained that their stir is apolitical.
While the Congress has said it will hold protests that day at all district and state headquarters, the ruling TMC on West Bengal has announced sit-ins in various areas for three days.
The Aam Aadmi Party said it will hold a peaceful demonstration in the national capital.
In the wake of the call for bandh and protests, the Union Home Ministry has issued an advisory to state governments and UT administrations to ensure that the COVID-19 guidelines issued about health and social distancing are strictly followed.
The states and UTs were told that peace and tranquillity must be maintained during the ''Bharat Bandh'' and precautionary measures taken so that no untoward incident takes place anywhere in the country, a home ministry official said.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi against the new farm laws for the last 12 days.
The bandh has been called against Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020, all of which were passed by Parliament recently.
The three farm laws enacted in September have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The Centre has repeatedly asserted that these mechanisms will remain.
Addressing a press conference, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Congress'' manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls had promised repeal of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and make agri-trade free from all restrictions.
"In 2013, Rahul Gandhi had given direction to all the chief ministers of the Congress-ruled states to delist fruits and vegetables from the APMC and allow them to sell it directly in the open market," Prasad said.
NCP chief Sarad Pawar had written as the Union agriculture minister in the UPA government to chief ministers strongly advocating for greater participation of the private sector in the farm sector and highlighting the need for making suitable regulatory and policy changes for that, Prasad said.
Prominent leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Pawar, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, DMK chief M K Stalin and PAGD chairman Farooq Abdullah had on Sunday issued a joint statement backing the bandh.
Meanwhile, police have increased deployment at various Delhi border points.
The Delhi Traffic Police on Monday tweeted about the closure of the Singhu, Auchandi, Piao Maniyari and Mangesh borders. The Tikri and Jharoda borders are also closed, it said and advised alternative routes for travelling to Haryana and UP.
The National Highway-44 (NH-44) has also been closed on both sides. The Gazipur border on NH-24 is also closed for traffic from Gaziabad to Delhi.