With no breakthrough in the talks held in Karnal Wednesday between the Haryana government and farm leaders protesting against the police crackdown 11 days ago, leaders of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) said they would continue their siege of the mini-Secretariat in the town.
“The administration appears to be working on directions from (state capital) Chandigarh. We are ready for the long haul,” said Rakesh Tikait, leader of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU). BKU Haryana chief Gurnam Singh Chaduni, too, said they would continue the siege.
The key issue that led to the breakdown of talks, which lasted three hours, was the demand for action against former SDM Ayush Sinha, according to SKM, which is the umbrella body of farmers’ unions that has been leading the movement against the Centre’s new farm laws over the last nine months.
A video of Sinha asking police personnel to “break the heads” of those who made their way past a blockade had gone viral on August 28 when police lathicharged protesting farmers at a toll plaza in Bastara on the Chandigarh-Delhi highway near Karnal.
Addressing a gathering after Wednesday’s talks, Swaraj India founder Yogendra Yadav said that while they sought action against the officer, the administration asked them to focus on compensation. “We told them that it’s a question of our honour and we can collect enough compensation on our own,” Yadav said.
The leaders have asked the administration to dismiss Sinha from service and book him on charges of murder and attempt to murder. They reiterated the claim that a farmer, Sushil Kajal, had died of a heart attack following the “police assault”.
“But they (the administration) refused point blank….they refused to even suspend him,” said Yadav.
Besides action against Sinha and police officers, the protesters are demanding Rs 25 lakh in compensation for Kajal’s family, and Rs 2 lakh each for those injured in the crackdown.
In Gurgaon, Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij told reporters that everyone has the right to protest and raise their voice in a democracy. “Whatever their (farmers) demands are, our officers are talking to them. The talks are ongoing,” he said.
In Karnal, Deputy Commissioner Nishant Kumar Yadav said in a statement that all offices in Karnal are “fully functional”, and that the administration is “holding regular talks with protesters”. However, he warned that those trying to “disrupt law and order” will be “dealt with sternly”.
“Amid the ongoing farmers’ agitation, nobody is required to panic in Karnal. All the markets are functional,” the DC said. He said that protesters have not closed any road in Karnal or the national highway and “nor shall they be allowed to do so”.
“All the offices in Karnal are fully functional and if anybody has any work in the mini-Secretariat, they can visit and get the work done. The district administration is holding regular talks with the protesters. The protesters have assured that they won’t trouble anybody,” he said.
“(The) district administration has made adequate police deployment to maintain law and order…If anyone tries to disrupt law and order, he shall be dealt with sternly. Nobody is allowed to take law into their hands,” the DC said.
During the day, the protesters did not allow anyone to enter the mini-Secretariat from the main entrance although some officers and staff made their way in through the rear gate. By evening, the number of farmers outside the mini-Secretariat, which is about 3 km from Haryana Chief Minister M L Khattar’s home, had swelled to over 20,000.
At least 40 companies of security forces, including CAPF and BSF, have been deployed in the area, amid prohibitory orders under Section 144 and suspension of mobile Internet.
On Thursday, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of Punjab-based BKU (Ugrahan), is expected to lead a huge convoy to Karnal. Tikait said farmers from UP will also reach the site in the coming days.