NEW DELHI: Violence during the tractor rallies came as a setback for farm unions agitating for repeal of central farm laws. However, they expressed their determination to continue with their protests while seeking to dissociate themselves from Tuesday’s violence.
The unions said that there were no plans to abandon the march to Parliament on Budget day, though neither the courts nor the Central government may be accommodative this time. The farm unions, which have received favourable notice so far, will find themselves being closely questioned over the manner in which their rally spun out of control and resulted in chaos in Delhi on Republic Day.
Union leaders do not appear ready to give up on their core demands — repeal of laws and legal guarantee to minimum support price (MSP) —and some of them feel that their protests are acquiring a larger dimension. The unions will in any case want to wait to see how opposition parties take up the stir in the Budget session, which begins on Friday.
The likely stand of the Central government, which has so far been at pains to signal its flexibility to amend the laws — short of repeal — was not clear though BJP leaders were taken aback by the violence. The government and BJP offered no word on the violence, with sources saying the priority was to restore law and order. The government seemed to expect the televised events to hurt the protest, while the proceedings in the Supreme Court, which had asked if the rally would be peaceful, could also see the Centre spelling out its stand.
So far, the government has been careful in not using coercive methods, keeping in mind the sensitivity of Punjab, from where most of the unions are from, being a border state and the likely role of extremists in exploiting the situation.
The unions said they had mobilised some organisations in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal to intensify the agitation. All these states, along with Assam and Manipur, witnessed protests on Tuesday. Until now, the mobilisation has been largely cadre-based with the Left-aligned All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) playing a leading role.
“Those elements, which are not going along with the collective spirit of the farmers’ movement, and which broke the norms, are the ones who have weakened and isolated themselves, and it is not the movement that is weakened,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, who represented farmers in talks with the government, while condemning the violence.
P Krishna Prasad of AIKS and Avik Saha of Jai Kisan Andolan (JKA) believe that the rally on Delhi roads in fact enthused and encouraged farmers in several states.
“The incidents will not weaken the movement. It has now become a mass movement and will eventually become truly pan-India. Masses are now leading the struggle. They are not being led by farmers’ unions anymore,” Prasad, who participated in the Rohtak-Tikri leg of the tractor rally on Tuesday, said.
Asked whether violence would not defeat the purpose, Saha said, “Only one group short-circuited it and created panic by its unacceptable act, which we all condemned. We will review it and take a collective decision. We are bound by the common mission and we are determined to achieve it through further intensifying the protests across the country.”