Farmers protesting against the new farm laws have called for a ‘peaceful’ ‘Bharat Bandh’ from 11 am till 3 pm on December 8, a day ahead of the sixth round of talks with the Centre.
Most opposition parties, including the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, besides the Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and some Left-leaning outfits, have supported the strike call, inviting a sharp reaction from the BJP. It accused the Congress and others opposition parties of having “double standards” and joining the farmers’ protest to save their existence after being wiped out in elections across the country.
During Tuesday’s bandh, public transport services in Delhi are likely to be hit as some auto and taxi unions have decided to join the strike. Besides, All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), the apex body of transporters representing about 95 lakh truckers, has extended their support to the strike and said it will suspend operations in the country on Tuesday. Most fruits and vegetables traders in Delhi will not work in support of the farmers, while the APMC market in Vashi, Navi Mumbai, will also remain shut. Many bank unions have also decided to report for work wearing black bands to show their support to the farmers.
The ‘Bharat Bandh’ from 11 am to 3 pm is a symbolic protest, Bharatiya Kisan Union Spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said. “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,” Tikait said, reported NDTV. He said the bandh will be “peaceful”.
The Centre, however, is not taking any chances. It has asked all states and Union Territories to tighten security during the ‘Bharat Bandh’ while asserting that peace and tranquillity must be maintained. Its representatives have been holding talks with the farmers, who’ve been camping outside Delhi since November 26, to break the deadlock over the laws.
Most Opposition parties have extended support to the protesters and their call for strike. Samajwadi Party’s president Akhilesh Yadav was taken into police custody on Monday after he broke security cordon to sit on dharna in Lucknow against the Centre’s farm laws.
He was scheduled to hold a ‘kisaan yatra’ in Kannauj district against the laws, but police had sealed the road leading to his Lucknow residence to stop him from proceeding further. However, a defiant Yadav along with party leaders broke police barricades and squatted on the road, which prompt the cops to put him in a van and taken him away from the site.
“If the new farm laws are intended to help farmers, then why are they on the war path? Why is the government so adamant? If farmers don’t want the new laws, the government should take these back,” he told reporters. He said the government should bring laws which can ensure doubling of farmers income, “but the government’s intention is not clear.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too has extended support to their bandh call and visited the Singhu border on Monday to check arrangements made by the city government for the farmers. He was accompanied by his cabinet ministers and some of his party’s MLAs during the brief visit to the protest venue on the Delhi-Haryana border.
Several other Opposition parties, including those running state governments, have backed the December 8 strike, including Congress and Shiv Sena.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Monday said the farmers’ ‘Bharat Bandh’ call on Tuesday is
apolitical and people of the country should willingly take part in it to express support to the cultivators. The NCP and Congress — the two other constituents of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Maharashtra — have declared support to the bandh.
The Congress has said the Centre would be responsible for any inconvenience caused to people during the ‘Bharat Bandh’ on December 8. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar said the farmers were justified in opposing what he alleged was “corporatisation of agriculture” and urged all sections of people and political parties to support the Bharat Bandh.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee contended the BJP government at the Centre should immediately withdraw the “anti-people” farm laws or step down. But her Trinamool Congress government would not support Tuesday’s bandh in the state, said MP Saugata Roy, stating that “it (bandh) goes against our principles.”
Accusing the opposition parties of “shameful double standards”, the BJP said that parties like the Congress and the NCP had once supported what are now key provisions of the new laws. Noting that opposition parties have backed farmers’ ‘Bharat Bandh’ call, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said they’ve joined the agitation in a bid to save their existence after being repeatedly rejected by people in different elections.
Battling existential crisis, the opposition was conspiring to create “unrest” by misleading people over the issue, he told a press conference. Prasad said a section of farmers has fallen in the grip of some people with “vested interests” and asserted the government was working to address their misgivings about the reforms, which have drawn strong protests from different groups of cultivators, especially from Punjab. He appreciated the protesting farmer unions for not associating their agitation with any political parties.
(With inputs from agencies)