A delegation of senior Congress leaders met President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday to demand a special session of Parliament to repeal three agriculture reform laws, with former party president Rahul Gandhi attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the contentious legislation.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from northern India, have camped on the borders of Delhi since November 26 to protest against the laws they say will weaken their bargaining power and leave them at the mercy of powerful agribusinesses.
Eleven Opposition parties also released a statement and termed as “baseless” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that Opposition leaders were lying to the farmers and misleading them. The statement also expressed solidarity with protesting farmers.
The BJP rejected the charges and accused the Congress of using farmers for politicking.
In the afternoon, Gandhi; leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad; and party leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury; met Kovind and handed over a memorandum signed by 20 million farmers seeking withdrawal of the three laws.
“We told the President that the new agri laws are anti-farmer. The farmers and labourers will suffer due to this,” Gandhi said after the meeting. “I want to tell the PM that farmers are not going back home until the laws are taken back. The government should convene a joint session of Parliament and repeal them,” he added.
During the march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi Police detained Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other leaders and took them to Mandir Marg police station for violating prohibitory orders after they held a sit-in protest outside the party office at 24, Akbar Road. Rahul Gandhi, Azad and Chowhury were allowed to proceed.
Three Congress-ruled states — Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — have passed bills bypassing the central laws that allow agribusinesses to trade with minimal regulation, permit traders to stockpile large quantities of food commodities for economies of scale and lay down new contract farming rules.
Gandhi said all Opposition parties stood in solidarity with farmers and alleged that Modi wanted to transfer the wealth of ordinary people to crony capitalists. “Whoever will try to stand against him will be called terrorist – be it farmers, labourers and even if [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief] Mohan Bhagwat stands against him, he too will be called a terrorist. Anyone trying to take power from him will be dubbed anti-national,” he said.
He also attacked the authorities for blocking a protest march by Congress leaders to Rashtrapati Bhavan. “Democracy…. which country are you talking about? There is no democracy in India. It is in your imagination but not in reality,” he told reporters. In the memorandum, the Congress claimed 44 farmers lost their lives in the ongoing protests.
The BJP hit back. “The country hasn’t forgotten what happened during Emergency days. Democracy has flourished in Prime Minister Modi’s term,” Union minister of state for agriculture Kailash Choudhary said.
His party colleague and Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar accused the Congress of cheating farmers. “It is clear today that the Congress party is doing politics in the name of farmers,” he added. Javadekar also made light of Gandhi’s demands, saying Congress members obstruct Parliament when it is in session and do not take part in debates.
The Opposition joint statement was signed by Rahul Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary D Raja, Farooq Abdullah of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav, TR Baalu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav, Manoj Bhattacharya of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Debabrata Biswas of the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), and Dipankar Bhattacharya of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
“We register our strong protest against the baseless allegations being made by Prime Minister Modi, accusing the opposition parties of ‘repeatedly lying’ to the farmers about the new farm laws and using them for their politics. The Prime Minister’s accusations are a complete travesty of truth,” read the statement.
It referred to a speech by Modi to farmers of Madhya Pradesh on December 18, when the Prime Minister had alleged that Opposition parties were misleading the farmers on laws that would benefit agriculture.
Gandhi condemned the detention of the other Congress leaders by the police.
“It is an assault on the idea of India. The government is stopping our MPs from moving out of our office. PM needs to realise that there is a limit to this,” Gandhi said. “China is sitting at the border and has snatched thousands of kilometres our land. But why does the PM not speak up on it? Why is he silent? He is making the country weak and outside forces are seeing it as an opportunity. The country is moving on a dangerous path and it will suffer,” he claimed.
Priyanka Gandhi said the government was not ready to listen to farmers. “It is a sin to brand farmers as anti-nationals. If the government is terming farmers’ protest as sedition, it is a sin,” she told reporters.
But Union minister of state Choudhary maintained that the new laws were good for farmers. “Rahul Gandhi doesn’t want the agitation to stop. Congress cadre won’t stop agitating but farmers will. We are interacting with farmers while Congress and other political parties are inciting them,” he said.