Updated: September 1, 2021 5:21:26 am
WHILE the recent lathicharge on farmers by police in Karnal, leaving several injured, may have put Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on the backfoot, sources said a decision had been taken by the state government to act tough on protesters in case of any violence.
For months now, leaders of the ruling BJP and Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) have been virtually unable to appear among the public or hold any official or party-level functions without farmers protesting. On several occasions, the leaders have had to cancel their visits to avoid any clash.
Official sources said the government “was in no mood to tolerate any more violence in the garb of protests”, and will use force if farmers “exceed their limit” and obstruct BJP or JJP leaders, or disrupt any official or public function attended by them. The change of strategy comes ahead of the coming panchayat polls, with the two ruling parties worried about not being able to address public meetings or to campaign.
A hint of the Khattar government’s resolve was evident in the CM’s statement Monday on the August 28 lathicharge. “Agar main ek mukka hawa mein ghumaun, toh yeh mera freedom hai. Magar voh mukka aapki naak pe lage, toh usey freedom nahin kaha jaa sakta (If I swing a blow in the air, that’s my freedom. But if I end up hitting you, that can’t be called freedom),” he said.
Farmers have demanded action against IAS officer Ayush Sinha, who was caught on video telling policemen to “break heads” if anyone made their way past a cordon at the August 28 protest, by September 6, threatening to gherao the district administration’s offices in Karnal otherwise. A mahapanchayat has also been called by farmer unions on September 2 to decide the further course of action.
“There has to be a limit. The CM and several ministers have made it clear to the farmer union leaders that they are open to talks. Even then, if farmers are not satisfied, they can continue to hold peaceful protests. The CM has clarified that they can show black flags, raise slogans. But if they attempt to disrupt any official function or any political party’s function, it shall not be tolerated anymore,” a senior Haryana government officer told The Indian Express.
“The entire Sonipat, Bahadurgarh belt is badly affected due to the blockade on the national highway. Industries are virtually ruined. And, on top of it, if the farmers also indulge in violence and allow anti-social elements to disrupt law and order, police will definitely have to take action,” a close aide of Khattar said.
“Agitation is one thing, the government too sympathises with the farmers and is willing to hold talks. But the farmers should understand that their grouse is against the Union government. How can they disrupt a political party’s internal meetings or restrict movement of any elected representative? If the elected representatives cannot go among their voters and convey what they have to say, it is against the principles of democracy,” another senior officer said.
Home Minister Anil Vij said, “Farmers should understand that their agitation should not become a problem for others.”
August 28 wasn’t the first time police and farmers have clashed in Haryana. In January when farmers did not allow Khattar’s helicopter to land in Kaimla village in Karnal; in May when farmers attempted to barge into a school in Hisar where Khattar was inaugurating a makeshift Covid-19 facility; in June when farmers attacked the vehicle of JJP MLA Devender Babli in Fatehabad; and in July when the vehicle of Vidhan Sabha Deputy Speaker was vandalised, clashes saw people on both sides injured.
Compared to its partner BJP, the JJP led by Deputy CM Dushyant Singh Chautala has taken a more nuanced stance on the protests, given that its support base comprises farmers. While criticising the remarks of the IAF officer involved in the August 28 protest, Dushyant had said,”Most of the 40 union leaders are from Punjab and UP, then why is Haryana being brought to a halt? Why is Haryana becoming the epicentre time and again?… They want to disturb the system and fail the agrarian economy in Haryana. But we won’t let it fail.”
On the state government taking a strict stand, JJP MLA Babli told The Indian Express, “It is their (the farmers’) legal right to protest, which they have been doing for nine months. But, don’t we have legal rights? CM, ministers or MLAs, even we are ordinary citizens.”
Babli added that confrontation helped neither side. “Talks are the only solution, but it is also the duty of the state government to maintain law and order… The common man is the ultimate sufferer… Nine months is a very long time and steps should be taken on both sides to resolve the standoff.”
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