ADDRESSING a farmers’ rally at Azad Maidan in Mumbai Monday, NCP president Sharad Pawar accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of displaying complete indifference and insensitivity towards farmers protesting for the last 60 days on the outskirts of Delhi, and warned that angry farmers could bring down governments.
Speaking at the rally called in solidarity with the farmers protesting on Delhi borders, Pawar said, “For almost 60 days, farmers across Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been agitating on the outskirts of Delhi, braving the winter. The Prime Minister has not once bothered to enquire about them. He has not even shown any concern. What does it show? Are they not our farmers? Do Punjab farmers belong to Pakistan?”
Farmers and tribals from 21 districts of Maharashtra, led by the All India Kisan Sabha, were present at the rally, which drew a substantial crowd. Apart from the NCP, leaders of the Congress and Samajwadi Party were present under the banner of the Samyukta Shetkari Kamgar Morcha. While the Shiv Sena, that is part of the ruling coalition in the state with the NCP and Congress, was said to have extended its support to the protest, no prominent leader of the party was present at the rally.
Criticising the haste with which the government used its majority to rush the contentious farm laws through Parliament, Pawar said, “Let it be known that if you persist with laws which are detrimental to farmers, it will have serious ramifications. If the laws are enforced, farmers will be uprooted. And any attempt to do so will lead to farmers using their might to uproot the government.”
Congress minister and its Maharashtra chief Balasaheb Thorat said, “The state government is not going to enforce these laws. A group of ministers is working on laws which would be pro-farmers.”
Pawar said the manner in which the farm laws were passed amounts to violation of the Constitution. “Ideally, the government should have heeded the Opposition’s demand and worked towards consensus by referring the laws to a select committee of Parliament. It would have helped bring flawless laws and also helped the government avoid confrontation.”
Backing the MSP system, the NCP chief said, “It is mandatory. It should not only recover production costs, but more. And in case prices drop below the MSP, the government should intervene and procure crops up to 100 per cent.”
Pawar said the Manmohan Singh government had adopted the above policy, and accorded the highest priority to farmers’ demands. “I served for 10 years as the Union Agriculture Minister and I know for sure how great the contribution of Punjab farmers has been in providing wheat which feeds the entire country.”
Pawar also questioned why Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had left Mumbai for Goa on Monday, when the protesters had planned to submit a memorandum to him. “He has the time to meet Kangana (Ranaut, who met the Governor following the BMC action against her) but not farmers! As the head of state it was his moral duty to remain in Mumbai… Maharashtra has never seen such a governor before. The farmers’ delegation would have just visited the Raj Bhavan and presented a memorandum listing their demands. But even that basic courtesy was not extended by the Governor.”
An official statement issued by the Raj Bhavan said, “Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari who holds additional charge of Goa had to address the first session in Goa’s Vidhan Bhawan on Monday. This was conveyed in advance to Samyukta Shetkari Kamgar Morcha leaders Dhananjay Shinde and Prakash Reddy.” The Governor’s office had also informed that in the absence of Koshyari, his Principal Secretary would meet the farmers’ delegation at 5 pm, the statement said.
Shinde admitted the Raj Bhavan had informed them about this, but said, “Our point is the Governor could have adjusted the timing. His speech at the Goa Vidhan Bhavan was in the morning at 11.36 am. He could have given us time at 6 pm or 7 pm… Farmers from distant areas across the state had come to Mumbai… The Centre does not want any discussion in Parliament, they don’t want to listen to anybody.”
Apart from Thorat, Congress leaders Sunil Kedar and Bhai Jagtap were present at the rally.
Several students’ federations, and activists Medha Patkar, P Sainath and Teesta Setalvad, also came together under the Samyukta Shetkari Kamgar Morcha. Addressing the rally, Sainath said, “The presence of farmers in such large numbers in Mumbai shows that the farmer protest is not Punjab-centric, as the government is trying to depict.”