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‘This is a movement, led entirely by farmers … Accepting demands of your own people does not mean defeat’

Farmers of Haryana have been integral to the protests against the central farm laws. Deepender Singh Hooda, a member of the Congress party and a Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana, spoke to Amin Ali about the protests and his party’s position on the fallout:

Political parties like Congress are accused of holding the capital to ransom in the garb of farm protests. 

When these people started from Punjab or Haryana, they did not plan to sit on Delhi borders. Their plan was to go to Ramlila Ground – the venue that has witnessed big and peaceful anti-government movements like JP movement or Anna Andolan. These farmers wanted to peacefully raise their demands there but were stopped and forced to be at the borders. They didn’t choose borders as venues of protests. It is the government that is holding them there forcefully.

What’s your position on the vandalism and violence through these protests?

We condemn vandalism and urge the government to take strictest action against actual culprits. But that should not mean targeting innocent farmers for raising their voice and media for showing the truth. It is important to highlight that these farmers have been sitting for over three months at Singhu or Tikri or other areas of Jhajjar and Rohtak. There is not one complaint of a farmer even snatching a banana from a hawker or any local skirmish due to their vandalism. Despite dead bodies of near ones returning, there have not been any emotional flare ups so far. This shows farmers’ peaceful intentions.

Harsh words have been used by farmer organisations and opposition parties for the government. Don’t you think this could have been amicably discussed and dealt with without politicising it?

This is a movement led entirely by farmers. And responsible political parties have a right to choose which issue to support. It is our national duty to support the farmers. Unfortunately, BJP has used wrong terminology for this movement from the beginning and that shows their mindset. This is not a protest but a movement. Calling it any other name or calling participants terrorists is the biggest insult. If a father is sitting at the protest and his son is serving at the border, is either of them a terrorist? Haryana is one of the most patriotic states in the country. Every 10th soldier in Indian army is from Haryana, 40% of medals in Asian or Commonwealth games come from Haryana. 20% of all the food grains of the country are from Haryana. It is these farmers’ sons that win medals and protect the nation. We get our bodies back wrapped in the national flag as martyrs. So, anyone telling us how to use and respect the national flag is not acceptable to us. And calling us anti-national hurts.

What is the way forward? What would you have done?

Stop calling people names. We request the government to please understand the purity of this movement rather than see it as a political ploy. It should open the doors again for talks. Treat farmers as your own. Accepting demands of your own people does not mean defeat. Stop treating it like an ego issue. Show empathy towards farmers who have sacrificed their lives. Their families need support. Reach out to those families and that will go a long way in building bridges and regaining trust.

PM asserted that MSP will be there and Congress once supported these reforms and is now misleading the farmers. 

Haryana state introduced contract farming under BS Hooda government in 2007. But we also added rules that stated any contract below MSP is null and void. And anyone doing any contract below MSP was contravening the law and punishable by law. That is the only question we have. If the government is so certain that farmers will get higher value for their produce then why don’t they agree for legal protection? Only 6-10% of farmers get MSP. Most are from Punjab and Haryana. Ask farmers of Bihar if they get MSP. Government should have successfully implemented the farm practices of Punjab and Haryana across the country. Unfortunately, it is doing the reverse.

Does it worry you that your party is now seen as anti-reforms?

Congress (government) is signatory to the Indo-US nuclear deal. We fought for FDI in multi-brand retail that BJP opposed tooth and nail. Service and manufacturing sector boomed under the UPA government. We have been pro-reforms but we do not want reforms to benefit a handful. Get big or get out will be the question here. Small farmers will lose out. Peoples’ lives are dependent on this. No government could have thought of bringing in such anti-people policies earlier. Popularity of the state and central governments is at an all-time low and if they do not empathise with farmers, it will keep going down.

 

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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