Though the confrontation between the farmers and administration has been resolved, the undercurrent of anger among farmers against Khattar Government remains writes RAJESH MOUDGIL
Even though no untoward incident was reported on the day of Kisan Mahapanchayat in Karnal – September 7, yet the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) coalition government has been left red-faced. For, as threatened, literally hundreds of farmers first held their Mahapanchayat and then simply walked for over 4 km despite heavy police deployment, crossing several barricades to reach the mini-secretariat and begin an indefinite dharna (sit-in) there to press the government to accept their demands.
It has inflicted a double whammy on the state government. One – the farmers’ anguish this time was not against the contentious farm laws but against the government’s inaction against the former local SDM whose video clip had gone viral on August 28 in which he was heard asking a police team to smash the heads of protesting farmers in Karnal and – two – this all was happening in chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s own constituency, Karnal, from where he has been elected for the second time in a row.
Though the state government had transferred the said officer after the condemnations from all quarters, but it had refused to register any police case against him and accept other demands of the farmers. This was said to be because of the absence of any medical reports stating the farmer was fatally injured in the lathi-charge. There were also reports that he died due to a heart attack.
It may be recalled that a group of farmers had clashed with police in Karnal on August 28 in an attempt to protest against Khattar who was in the city to attend a function. At least 10 people were hurt after Haryana police lathi-charged them as, according to police, they were disrupting traffic movement on a highway while heading towards Karnal to protest at Khattar’s function venue and had clashed with police when stopped.
According to media reports, Khattar while commenting on the police lathi-charge, said that obstructing official work was against democracy and if the farmers wanted to protest, they should have done it peacefully. Khattar also said that if the farmers would jam the highways and attack the police, the police would also take steps to maintain law and order.
Anguished over the incident, the farmers, on the other hand set a deadline of September 7 for the government to accept their demands; They demanded Rs 25 lakh compensation for the family of the farmer who lost his life in police lathi-charge, a government job for kin of the deceased and financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh and free treatment to each for all the injured farmers in the incident.
On the call for September 7 Kisan Mahapanchayat, thus, hordes of farmers could be seen arriving at Karnal’s grain market since the wee hours of the day where their leaders including Rakesh Tikait, Gurnam Singh Charuni and Yogendra Yadav decided to gherao the district mini-secretariat in the afternoon to press the government to accept their demands.
Leaders arrested, let off
The atmosphere got tense briefly after the police detained farmer leaders, though released them after a few minutes reportedly sensing trouble because of the sheer large number of protesting farmers.
The police even used water cannon to stop the farmers who had marched on foot for over four kilometers to reach the mini-secretariat, but to no avail. The district administration also called the farmers leaders for the dialogue on their demands on several occasions, but these talks too fell through.
Led by leaders including Rakesh Tikait, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Darshan Pal, Joginder Singh Ugrahana and Yogender Yadav, the farmers, thus reached the mini-secretariat and laid the siege of the area close to the mini-secretariat’s main gate by late September 7 night amid heavy police bandobust.
Traffic disrupted on GT Road
Even though there was no disruption on the GT road during the daytime on August 7, hundreds of motorists went through harrowing times towards evening because of the disruption caused by the chaos. However, the police had effected diversions on the Ambala-Delhi national highway No 44 (also called GT road) which were used for the people going to Delhi or returning from there. The state government had also suspended the mobile internet services in district Karnal and several adjoining districts for three days to maintain the law and order situation in wake of the farmers’ stir.
Punjab, Haryana CMs trade barbs
Even though the Haryana government had transferred the 2018-batch IAS officer and the then Karnal SDM, Ayush Sinha after the said video went viral, widespread condemnation from leaders of various political parties continued.
According to media reports, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and the state’s Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu flayed the police action.
According to reports, Capt Amarinder Singh slammed Khattar for unleashing such a vicious assault on peacefully protesting farmers. He held it was evident that the BJP-led Haryana government was deliberately using brute force in a desperate bid to end the farmers’ stir against farm laws.
Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda also aired similar views on the incident demanding action against those who ordered the lathi-charge. He went on to say that the barbaric crackdown on farmers in Karnal was illegal, undemocratic and inhuman.
However, when asked for his comments on the demand by Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh for his resignation for the police lathi-charge in Karnal, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar hit back at his Punjab counterpart and asked who Capt Amarinder Singh to seek his resignation was? He also lashed out at former Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda alleging he was instigating farmers. Khattar said that in Punjab, Capt Amarinder Singh was instigating farmers and in Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and other Congress leaders were instigating them and added that no one had the right to block roads indefinitely.
Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij also held that the government was ready for a probe into the entire Karnal episode, including an IAS officer’s controversial remarks and the police lathi-charge that had triggered a sit-in outside mini-secretariat.
NHRC issues notice to Centre, states on farmers’ protest
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on September 13 issued notices to the Union of India, the Chief Secretary, Government of U.P., Chief Secretary, Government of Haryana, Chief Secretary, Government of Rajasthan, Chief Secretary, Government of NCT of Delhi, Director Generals of Police, U.P., Haryana, Rajasthan and Commissioner of Police, Delhi calling upon them to submit their respective Action Taken Reports on the ongoing farmer’s protest.
Through the notice, the Commission has asked the National Disaster Management Authority, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health, Government of India, to submit reports with respect to the adverse impact of farmer’s agitation on various aspects and observance of COVID Protocols at the protests sites.
The Commission said that there are allegations of adverse impact on the industrial units, seriously affecting more than 9000 micro, medium, and large companies. Allegedly, transportation is also adversely impacted, causing the commuters, patients, physically challenged people and senior citizens to suffer due to the heavy congestion on roads. There are also reports that people have to travel long distances to reach their destinations due to the ongoing farmers’ agitation and barricades have been put on the borders. There is an allegation that there is breach of the corona protocols by the agitating farmers at the protest site. There is further allegation that the inhabitants are not being allowed to move out of their houses due to the blockade of the passage.
Since the agitation involves the issue of human rights, the right to agitate in a peaceful manner is also to be respected. The Commission needs to take care of various human rights issues.