Around 20,000 members of the Kisan Sena will march from western Uttar Pradesh to Delhi Thursday to highlight their support of the centre’s farm laws, setting up a potential face-off with thousands of farmers who have been camped around the city borders for nearly a month in protest of those laws.
The pro-agriculture law group will include farmers from the Braj area of the state, which includes districts like Mathura, Agra, Firozabad and Hathras, as well as those from the Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts, Kisan Sena convener Thakur Gauri Shankar Singh told news agency PTI.
“We have written to the authorities concerned for permission regarding our march to Delhi but have not got reply. In any case, around 20,000 Kisan Sena supporters will be en route to Delhi to meet Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday,” he said.
“We want to meet the minister and inform him that the ongoing protests on Delhi’s borders by unions from Punjab and Haryana no doubt comprise farmers, but they do not represent farmers of all India, or other states like UP,” he added.
Over the past weeks several groups said they will back the laws; last week the Hind Mazdoor Kisan Samiti (also from western UP) met the Agriculture Minister with a letter of support. At least two groups from Haryana and one from Uttarakhand have had similar meets, highlighting an apparent rift in the farmers’ community.
The Hind Mazdoor Kisan Samiti did, however, put forward other demands, including free education, and medical and irrigation facilities for farmers, as well those relating to procurement of crops.
The apparent rift, though, has energised the ruling BJP and its defence of the laws, with Mr Tomar last week writing an eight-page open letter to protesting farmers assuring them that MSPs (minimum support prices) and mandis (wholesale markets) would continue unaffected.
The letter – tweeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was the first step by the BJP in its counter-offensive. On Friday the Prime Minister is to address nine crore farmers in an online meeting. The party has repeatedly accused the opposition and separatist elements of engineering the protests.
Dozens of other farmer groups, however, have so far remained steadfast in their attempt to have the three farm laws scrapped. They say the laws will leave them at the mercy of corporates. The centre says the laws enable farmers to sell their produce at markets and prices of their choice.
Multiple rounds of talks have failed, with neither side willing to budge. The farmers want the laws scrapped and the centre is only willing to amend the more problematic sections.
On Wednesday leaders from several of these groups addressed a press conference at Singhu (on the Delhi-Haryana border) and urged the centre to present “concrete proposals in writing”. Earlier they also called for a boycott of the Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat speech on Sunday.
On their part, the centre has said it remains open to further talks but has left it to the farmers to fix a date and time. Mr Tomar said Wednesday that he was “hopeful” of further discussions.
At least 30 deaths have been reported since the protests began last month; several of these, the farmers say, are from the winter chill as they are camped outdoors with minimal heating at night.
The protests have also drawn attention from the international community – something the centre has expressed disapproval over, labelling remarks by foreign leaders and politicians “ill-informed” and “unwarranted” as the matter pertained to the internal affairs of a democratic country.
With input from PTI