From blaming Khalistanis, tukde-tukde elements to using ‘manipulated media’; how backlash over agri laws is being tackled

Day after withdrawing from the proposed talks with the Centre, the farmers' groups on Wednesday rejected the government’s proposal to make amendments in two of three contentious agriculture laws and announced an intensification of the agitation.

On Wednesday, farmers announced plans to "gherao Delhi" by closing the Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Agra highways, a boycott of Reliance malls and to block the toll plazas.

By 14 December, there will be a full-scale protest across the country, the farmers' groups said at a press conference at the Singhu border.

The protesting farmers have been demanding that the govt repeal the three new farm laws, which they claim, would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the APMC mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. They have made it clear that they will continue the protest until the three farm laws are repealed.

The BJP-led Central Government, however, has maintained that the new farm laws will bring better opportunities for farmers and usher in new technologies in agriculture. The party has maintained the stance despite ally Shiromani Akali Dal walking out of the NDA and another ally, Hanuman Beniwal-led party RLP of Rajasthan, mulling the same.

On Tuesday, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan again reiterated his party's stand on the laws. "The Centre’s farm laws are farmer-friendly. These will not only increase farmers' income significantly but also provide economic security to them. Procurement (of farm produce) will continue at MSP. There is no question of ending this mechanism. Mandis (agri markets) will also continue to function as usual," Chouhan said on Tuesday.

BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav refuted the Opposition's charges that the three laws are "anti-farmer" while Union minister Smriti Irani has accused the party's opponents of "politicising" the issue.

Amid some reports claiming that the farmers' bandh received a tepid response, Union Home Minister Amit Shah joined the talks on Tuesday, perhaps in a bid to strengthen the govt's position and pressure the farmers into giving up the agitation.

Tuesday's meeting, however, was not the first attempt to nudge the farmers into giving up the agitation. Since the farmers began the Delhi Chalo protests in November, the BJP has been using everything at its disposal to malign the authenticity of the protests.

In the beginning, some BJP leaders tried to label the farmers’ protest as part of Khalistani agenda, while others claimed that the tukde-tukde gang, a label coined by saffron party leaders to refer to those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act last year, have hijacked the farmers' protest.

“The kind of slogans that were raised at Delhi’s latest farmers movement and the manner in which it is being run on the Shaheen Bagh model clearly show that the ‘tukde-tukde gang’ and anti-CAA forces have left no stone unturned to hijack the movement,” former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi had tweeted earlier this month.

While Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar called the protesters “unwanted elements”, BJP MP Manoj Tiwari termed the protests as "Shaheen Bagh 2.0" while also reiterating Sushil Kumar Modi's remarks.

In a statement, Tiwari said the alleged slogans raised in favour of Khalistan and the “threats issued to the Prime Minister by some protesters among the farmers” provide “ample proof” that the protests are part of a well-planned conspiracy aimed at creating unrest in the country.

“The presence of individuals and groups who opposed the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and CAA at Shaheen Bagh, the involvement of Shaheen Bagh dadi clearly establishes that the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang is trying to experiment with Shaheen Bagh 2.0 and create unrest under the guise of farmers’ protest,” he said.

On 27 November, BJP IT cell in-charge Amit Malviya tweeted a purported video of protesting farmers where a man is heard citing PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in an apparent bid to threaten PM Modi should discussions with the government fail to resolve their grievances against the farm laws.

BJP national general secretary BL Santhosh made a similar allegation last month.

In November, BJP general secretary in-charge of party affairs in Uttarakhand Dushyant Kumar Gautam had told reporters that the party is ready to talk to farmers to address their apprehensions about the new farm laws, but their agitation seems to have been "hijacked by anti-national" forces.

The Opposition parties have not only supported the farmers’ protests but even answered Tuesday's call for Bharat Bandh. On Wednesday, a five-member delegation of political leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar among others, even met President Ram Nath Kovind demanding that the govt repeal the three farmers' acts.

The Centre, however, continued defending its stance, hitting out at any critical statements.

On Wednesday, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya underplayed the agitation claiming that only 10 percent of farmers are protesting.

"I think about 90 percent of farmers are staying away from this protest. Only 10 percent are involved. One should delve deep into why they are supporting and who all are doing politics in the name of our farmers," ANI quoted the BJP leader as saying.

Viajyvargiya, however, didn't explain in the ANI report as to how he arrived at the figure.

The Aam Aadmi Party alleged that the Delhi Police has put Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal under house arrest after he met protesting farmers at the Singhu border, a claim denied by the Delhi Police.

The BJP hit back at AAP's claims of Kejriwal being under house arrest and accused the Delhi chief minister of practising politics of "lies, deceit and propaganda".

"You have been doing this kind of cheap and petty politics blaming (Union) Home Minister without an iota of evidence and this won't be tolerated," BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said.

Internationally, Canada has been the most vocal in supporting the farmers protest in India. And the BJP has not taken it lightly. Besides conveying its anger diplomatically, the BJP called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jack Harris’ support to the farmers’ agitation “ill-informed” and termed it as interference in India’s internal affairs.

Called out on social media

On virtual platforms, BJP leaders used social media to support the laws, criticise the protests and uphold the party’s statements and actions. However, a leader’s post was tagged as ‘manipulated media’, while tweets by others were found to be factually incorrect.

Twitter flagged a 15-second video clip tweeted by Bharatiya Janata Party IT cell chief Amit Malviya claiming that an elderly farmer had not been attacked by police as alleged by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in his own tweet which accompanied a photograph showing the policeman raising his lathi at the farmer, calling it “manipulated media".

A Twitter post, showing Sikh men opposing the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, was retweeted by Priti Gandhi, head of social media for the women's cell of the BJP. The image was found to have been shared initially in August 2019 on the Facebook page of SAD.

The farmers’ agitation and criticism being meted out to the Centre may pose concerns for the party as seven states — West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Assam — are slated to hold Assembly elections over the next 18 months.

According to a report in The Economic Times, the farmers' wings of the BJP and the RSS, are planning to organise ‘Kisan Chaupals (farmer meetings)’ across India to make cultivators aware of the three farm legislations so that similar protests don’t erupt in other states.

With inputs from PTI



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