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United over protests, Opposition lends weight to farmers’ call for Bharat Bandh tomorrow

The support the farmers’ agitation and the Bandh call have elicited is similar to the broad Opposition unity which emerged in 2015 against amendments to the Land Acquisition Act.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Updated: December 8, 2020 4:10:18 am
United over protests, Opposition lends weight to farmers’ call for Bharat Bandh tomorrowFarmers at Singhu border. (Express photo: Amit Mehra)

As many as 15 parties opposed to the BJP, many running state governments, extended support Sunday to the December 8 Bharat Bandh call given by protesting farmer groups. This coalition is being seen as a renewed attempt by the beleaguered political opposition to push the NDA to concede on the three farm laws it had passed in September ignoring calls for more discussion and scrutiny.

The support the farmers’ agitation and the Bandh call have elicited is similar to the broad Opposition unity which emerged in 2015 against amendments to the Land Acquisition Act.

Last year, several Chief Ministers and parties had announced their opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens last year but could not force the government to scrap the law.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and leaders of 10 parties from Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, issued a joint statement supporting the nationwide Bandh call.

The statement is seen as an attempt to broad base the farmers’ stir and drive home the point that the agitation cannot be downplayed as a movement driven only by farmers from Punjab and Haryana.

“We extend our solidarity with the ongoing massive struggle by the Indian farmers organised by various kisan organisations from across the country and extend our support to their call for a Bharat Bandh on December 8 demanding the withdrawal of these retrograde agri-laws and the Electricity Amendment Bill,” the joint statement by 11 parties said.

Besides Gandhi, the signatories are DMK chief M K Stalin; NCP chief Sharad Pawar; RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav; PAGD president Farooq Abdullah; SP chief Akhilesh Yadav; CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury; CPI general secretary D Raja; CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya; Forward Bloc’s Debabrata Biswas and RSP’s Manoj Bhattacharya.

“These new agri-laws passed in the Parliament in a brazen anti-democratic manner preventing a structured discussion and voting, threaten India’s food security, destroy Indian agriculture and our farmers, lay the basis for the abolishment of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and mortgage Indian agriculture and our markets to the caprices of multi-national agri-business corporates and domestic corporate,” they said and argued that the “Central government must adhere to the democratic processes and norms and meet the legitimate demands of our Kisans-Annadatas.”

In parallel, Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to take steps to repeal the three laws which were “corporate friendly and anti-farmer,” rather than making this a “prestige issue.”

Chowdhury cited precedents like the 2013 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act (LARR Act), which repealed and replaced the Land Acquisition Act, 1894; or the 2017 Mental Health Care Act that superseded the Mental Health Act, 1987.

Joining the Opposition ranks in suppot of the bandh was Lok Sabha MP Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, a constituent of the ruling NDA. Saying that the Government should implement the M S Swaminathan Committee’s report, he added: “Otherwise, we are convening a meeting of the RLP to decide whether to continue in the NDA or not….These bills are anti-farmer, black bills…the Prime Minister should take them back.”

The fault lines in the opposition, too, were visible.

With Assembly elections in West Bengal just months away, the Trinamool Congress was not part of the joint statement but it separately extended support to the farmers’ stir. TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O Brien visited the Singhu border Saturday and conveyed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s support to the farmers. The Congress and the Left are planning to enter into a seat-sharing arrangement against the Trinamool Congress.

The Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, too, issued a separate appeal in support of the Bandh. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Aam Aadmi Party fully supports the Bandh call given by the farmers. “AAP workers across the country will peacefully support the Bandh. I appeal to all the people of the country to support the farmers and take part in the Bandh.”

In Hyderabad, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao asked his party workers to make the Bandh a success in the state. In a statement, he said the farmers were waging a “just” agitation and argued they should continue their protest until the farm laws are repealed.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK-led opposition bloc announced its support to the Bandh call. In a joint statement, Stalin; Tamil Nadu Congress chief K S Alagiri, MDMK founder Vaiko and Left leaders, appealed to farmers’ unions, traders’ bodies, government employees’ associations, labour unions and others in the state to extend “grand support” to the Bandh and make it a success. Actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) also extended support.

The Congress said it will actively participate in the Bandh. “All Pradesh Congress committees have been asked to extend their support…(hold) related activities and demonstrations in their respective states and UTs. The PCCs and DCCs will rally Congress workers, volunteers and leaders across the country and organise demonstrations,” Congress general secretary in charge of organization K C Venugopal said.

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