NEW DELHI: Punjab farmers protesting against the Centre's new farm laws on Sunday rejected Union Home Minister Amit Shah's proposal for an early discussion on their grievances, on the condition that they move to a designated protest site. The farmers said that the government should have approached with "an open heart" and not put preconditions.
The farmers announced their decision after a meeting this morning, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, showed support for farm laws in his radio address 'Mann kiBaat', saying that the "agricultural reforms" have "unshackled" the farmers and given them "new rights and opportunities".
Contending that the government is imposing conditions on the talks, the farmers said they would sit on the borders of Delhi for now, said 'Swaraj India' chief Yogendra Yadav. He is part of a seven-member committee of farmers that took the decision to turn down the offer.
The government should "stop laying down any conditions... should stop assuming that the dialogue can be about "an explanation to farmers about the benefits of the Acts" and should come straight out with a proposal," said a farmers' body.
"The force deployment all over the city is creating an atmosphere of terror and apprehension amongst the protesting farmers and the people of Delhi," said the farmers.
The farmers fear that the protest spots the government is suggesting can become jails – a concern that started after the Delhi Police suggestion that they be jailed in stadiums. The Arvind Kejriwal government had turned down the proposal, saying the protesters were Delhi's "guests".
On Saturday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured the protesters that the Central government was ready to deliberate on "every problem and demand". The Centre, he said, will hold talks with the farmers' unions on December 3 and if they want discussions before that, they will have to shift their protest to a designated venue.
At the Delhi-Haryana boundary near Narela, the farmers meanwhile, broke police barricades to enter the national capital. Raising slogans and carrying flags, the farmers managed to get through the barricades on tractors, cars, motorcycles, and on foot as the police personnel deployed at the spot watched.
In a tweet today, Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal accused Haryana Chief Minister M.L. Khattar of seeking to "defame farmers and their agitation".
"SAD strongly condemns Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar's statement terming our peasants who are agitating against the anti-farmer laws as Khalistanis. This is a conspiracy to defame the farmers and their agitation to pave the way for its repression with brutal force," read his tweet.
Khattar, while talking to the media on Saturday, was asked about "Khalistani elements" in the farmers' protest. "We have inputs of some such unwanted elements in the crowd," a news agency had quoted him as saying.
After battling water cannons, tear gas and police barricades for three days during the journey through Haryana, thousands of farmers had reached Delhi borders on Friday. Those who managed to enter the city are camping at a ground in north Delhi. Others remained at the border. Thousands of farmers, living in trucks, tractors and other vehicles, refused to budge at the Singhu and Tikri inter-State boundaries.
The farmers have been up against the farm laws, which have allowed them to bypass middlemen and sell directly to any market anywhere in the country. The farmers say that the new laws will lead to phasing-out of the existing system where they are assured of fixed prices from the government. The new system, they say, will also leave them at the mercy of the big corporates. (Agencies)