The Bharati Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) has been hitting the headlines ever since the protests against the three agri ordinances, which were later enacted as laws by the Centre, began. The largest farmers’ union of Punjab and its 75-year-old chief Joginder Singh Ugrahan have remained in news for often taking stand that was not in consonance with the other farmers’ bodies agitating against the central laws — whether it be not joining the others when the Delhi Chalo march began on November 26 or holding a protest seeking release of jailed ‘rights activists’. Ugrahan speaks to The Indian Express on farm laws, human rights and farm suicides.
BKU (Ugrahan) was a day late in starting from Punjab for Delhi. Do you think that you lagged behind somewhere despite being the largest union in Punjab?
No. We are at (Delhi’s) Tikri border and our workers are spread over several kilometers. It hardly matters whether we started a day late (which was November 27 from Khanauri-Jind and Bathinda- Dabwali highways). Ultimately, the goal of all the unions is the same and we are also protesting against farm laws as the rest of the other unions are doing.
What do you think of the amendments proposed by the Centre government in the three farm laws?
We have rejected their proposals and amendments. Earlier, they were saying that farm laws are for farmers’ welfare but later they were ready to insert amendments. By proposing amendments, they have proved that their laws have flaws. Any law, which has so many flaws, needs to be scrapped. If the Centre is really keen to for welfare of the farmers, they can seek feedback from farmers and accordingly bring in farmer-friendly reforms. Now, the latest letter of the Centre asking the farmers’ unions to choose a date for meeting also revolves around those amendments.
When you had started from Punjab, what was on your mind?
We had come with a clear mind that this struggle will last long. That’s why we came after stocking up on ration to last us the season. Our workers keep coming in turns at the protest site and on any given day not less than 50,000 of them remain present at the Tikri border apart from at over 50 protest sites in Punjab. However we are thankful to the overwhelming response from Haryana farmers who are supplying the protesters with hot meals and milk. It (the protest) is a lok lehar now.
Your union stirred up a controversy when you organised a protest seeking release of the jailed human rights activists. The other 32 farmers’ organisations of Punjab have said that the protest has harmed the ongoing struggle. What do you have to say about this ?
Talking about democratic rights is not a crime and we will continue to seek our rights in future as well. We heard words like “urban Naxals”, “agents of Congress”, “favouring Pakistan and their PM Imran Khan”…. These things have no meaning. Talking about human rights is not a crime. We observe Human Rights Day every year and we will continue to do that. We cannot comment on the reaction of other unions over our programme.
In the Supreme Court’s writ petition, your outfit is not a party. Will you become a party in this petition over farm laws in future?
We have not decided anything as of now. We will discuss the issue with union members and also with the rest of the farmer unions who are also fighting for the same cause.
Now you are working in coordination with the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee. What is the reason behind this?
We had coordinated with the KMSC in many other protests as well in the past. But yes, we had never spoken from each others’ stages. It is a signal of better coordination. Our common goal is to get farm laws repealed. Otherwise, we are in constant coordination with 32 farmer unions and the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) as well.
Your reaction to the fresh letter by the Centre for another meeting?
That letter talks about the same old amendments proposed by the Centre in farm laws. I have not found anything new in this letter.We will decide whether to go to the next meeting or not with the SKM.
What are the future plans of your union?
As Delhi Chalo protests complete a month on December 25, new contingents of protestors will reach national capital to intensify the struggle. On December 26, a contingent of 15,000 of our workers will march from Khanuri to Tikri and on December 27, another 15,000 will march from Bathinda-Dabwali side. These additional 30,000 workers will give our morcha further strength. We are also coordinating with farmers’ unions from Haryana to organise protests outside the houses of BJP leaders in that state and also to make Haryana toll free for three days from December 25 to 27. We will be intensifying our struggle against farm laws in coordination with SKM as our goal is the same: ‘repeal of farm laws’.
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