After Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, farmers protesting the agriculture laws will now hold a mahapanchayat in Punjab – at Jagraon in Ludhiana district on Thursday – with as many as 31 farmer unions and around one lakh people expected to attend, and listen to speeches by farmer leaders like the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s Dr Darshan Pal.
Arrangements for the gathering were proceeding apace at the New Grain Market in Jagraon, where a massive stage is being set up. The police have stepped up security to avoid any untoward incident.
This will be the first mahapanchayat in Punjab since widespread protests – led largely by farmers from the state – against the centre’s laws broke out in November last year.
The event, farmers hope, will be seen as a chance for the dozens of individual unions to show a united front amid rumours of rifts, and the Prime Minister’s “andolan jeevi (professional protesters)” comment in Parliament, which infuriated them.
On Wednesday Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra – whose party is in power in Punjab and has been a fierce supporter of the farmers’ protest in this state and UP (where elections are due next year – attended a mahapanchayat in Saharanpur district.
Ms Gandhi Vadra told farmers the centre did not understand them or what they stand for, and that “they (the centre) calls farmers anti-national, but in reality, it is them who are anti-national“.
Just days ago, at another mahapanchayat in UP’s Shamli, thousands of farmers squatted on the ground as songs imploring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen played out in the backdrop.
Both these events were held despite orders banning large assemblies.
Also on Wednesday the Prime Minister hit out at the opposition, and particularly the Congress, for misleading the farmers – a charge repeated frequently by members of the ruling BJP.
“No matter how much you try to sabotage it, you will fail… the truth is out there… farmers have not lost anything since the laws came into effect,” he said, although without naming the party.
The farmers and the centre have gone through 11 rounds of talks without a breakthrough. The farmers want the laws scrapped and a legal guarantee for MSPs (minimum support price). The centre says the laws will stay, but has offered an 18-month stay with a verbal assurance on MSPs.
The farmers have said they are open to fresh, and further talks, but have also released a schedule of future protests, which includes a four-hour rail roko across parts of India next week.