New Delhi: The farmers on Sunday rejected Home Minister Amit Shah’s proposal for talks, as it was contingent upon their lifting the blockade of the national Capital and shifting their agitation to Burari ground, on the outskirts of Delhi.
"As soon as you shift to the ground at Burari, the very next day a high-level committee of Union ministers will hold talks at Vigyan Bhavan with your representatives," Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla has stated in a letter to the farm unions.
The farmers, however, said they could not accept the offer of talks as it was conditional and thousands of them continued to rally for the third consecutive day on Sunday at Delhi's three interstate border points.
“We have decided that we will stay put. We will not go to Burari,” Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) president Buta Singh Burjgill said, echoing the popular sentiment among the protestors that the supply chain has been disrupted and the pressure is mounting on the government.
The offer came after PM Modi stated in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ that he was committed to the welfare of farmers, and the Centres' new farm laws were a step in this direction. The "agricultural reforms" have "unshackled" the farmers and given them "new rights and opportunities," he claimed.
A banned secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice, tried to muddy the troubled waters by announcing $1 million aid for farmers who suffered injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action in Haryana. The information has sent security agencies into a tizzy, with many deployed on protest spots in plainclothes to keep a close tab on SFJ supporters who may mingle with protesters to take undue advantage of the situation.
The spat between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar has become another strand to the ensuing conflict with the latter accusing the former of "lack of coordination" and linking it to the raging pandemic. "If any dangerous situation arises due to coronavirus, the Punjab government will be responsible for it. I tried to speak to Amarinder Singh on this matter but he denied receiving any call. Later, when I showed him the proof, he was speechless," Khattar said.
"A chief minister of one state doesn't use cuss words against his counterpart. I am not going to comment on this, people are already expressing their views on social media and elsewhere. Prolonging the protest is a pre-planned strategy of the Congress party and the Punjab government," Khattar added.
The Punjab chief minister was not going to let this one pass. "If he (Haryana Chief Minister) is so concerned about farmers spreading COVID-19 in Haryana whose track record in the pandemic remains extremely poor, he should not have stopped them within the State, but should have allowed them to move quickly to Delhi," said Singh.
Khattar further added insult to injury. By saying that he does ‘‘not consider use of tear gas and water cannon as use of force." He was referring to visuals from Kurukshetra, Ambala, Hisar and Sonepat where the police took recourse to the aforesaid to thwart the protesting farmers.
Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal -- who thus far has been watching the proceedings from the sidelines -- asked the Centre to immediately and unconditionally hold talks with the farmers. AAP has a sizeable presence in Punjab and feels obliged to support the farmer's protest. "The central government should talk to farmers immediately (and) unconditionally," he said in a tweet.
At a press conference on Sunday, senior AAP leader and chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj said his party believes that Home Minister Amit Shah has shown "utter irresponsibility" by leaving Delhi to campaign for Hyderabad municipal elections when lakhs of farmers were waiting at the Delhi border to talk to him.
As the farmers continued to protest peacefully at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur entry/exit points on the Delhi border, their numbers were swelling with more farmers arriving from UP and Rajasthan. The farmers are adamant that the Centre revoke the three farm laws to end the impasse; however, behind-the-channel talks are on and the farmers may be promised a statutory MSP if they soften their stand on the Central legislations.
What is worrisome is that even the Punjabi diaspora in the US and Canada have come in support of the farmers' protest.