Farmers march in Delhi gives Opposition parties common cause against govt

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As farmers marched on Parliament on Friday, Opposition leaders took the opportunity to show their strength and unity.

Thousands of farmers marched through the streets in the capital, chanting slogans and bearing flags, and demanding debt relief and remunerative prices for their farm produce. They had arrived in New Delhi on night before and had camped at the Ramlila grounds. The march, which began at 10:30 am, was halted at Parliament Street by the security forces.

They were joined by students, activists, and leaders of non-Bharatiya Janata Party political parties.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, former agriculture minister and Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, former member of Parliament Sharad Yadav, communist leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, and representatives of Trinamool Congress, Telugu Desam Party, and Samajwadi Party joined the farmers.They attacked the government on issues ailing the farm sector.“It is a fight for the future of the farmers and the youth. The (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi government has spent money on corporate entities and loan defaulters. If this is possible, why is waiving farm debt not possible? Indian farmers are not begging, but demanding their right,” Rahul Gandhi said.

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The government responded to the Opposition later in the day. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh criticised the Congress and listed the achievements of his government in the farm sector in an official statement.

“It is today that the Congress has realised that India is an agrarian country. They should remember that it is in their tenure that the Swaminathan Commission recommended the minimum support price formula. It is our government which is working towards the commitment to double farm incomes by 2022,” he said in a note in Hindi.

About 10,000 farmers from more than 15 states led by the All India Kisan Sangharsha Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) were present at the protest on Friday.

Echoing farmer leaders’ demands, the Opposition raised the pitch on waiving off farm debt across the country, and vowed to support the two (private member) Bills the leaders have drafted earlier this year.

While the first aims to end the indebtedness and create favourable conditions so that the debt does not accumulate again, the second one aims to promise procurement of farm produce for all crops at a 50 per cent margin over and above the comprehensive cost of crop production.

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The early hours of the protest were filled with rhetoric directed against the Modi government from the farmer leaders.

“Jo satta mein hai unko harane aaye hain, jo iske baad ayenge, unko daraane aaye hain (We have come to pull down the current government, and to warn the next one),” said political scientist turned politician Yogendra Yadav.

The confluence of three different agencies made the rally a grand success, said farm organisation leaders. “More than 200 farmers’ organisations, Nation for Farmers, which is a consortium of professionals and intellectuals, and political leaders from Opposition parties converged to make it successful,” said Ajit Navale, secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in Maharashtra who had spearheaded Mumbai’s Long March earlier this year.

Farm leaders, however, said it would be very difficult for a new government to actually implement these demands.

“They may accept it now and build a political Opposition, but the financial burden is going to be astronomical,” said another AIKS leader.

Leaders from farmer organisations had called up and invited all Opposition leaders to join their protest, to up the ante.

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