The Home Minister holds meeting ahead of 6th round of negotiations between the government and the protesting farmers
NEW DELHI – Amid widespread support for the nationwide bandh called by farmer unions on Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah called farmer leader Rakesh Tikait for a meeting in the evening. Also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked to former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on the phone.
“I received a phone call. Amit Shah has called a meeting. We have been called at 7 pm,” he said, adding farmer leaders protesting on the highways near Delhi would attend the meeting.
This extraordinary meeting is going to take place a day before the sixth round of negotiations between the government and the protesting farmers.
The “Bharat Bandh” call to protest against the Centre’s three farm laws received widespread support as protesters from opposition parties and several other organisations held demonstrations across the country. The bandh, observed between 11 am and 3 pm, was backed by around 15 opposition parties and several trade unions.
According to reports, the farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, blocked key roads during their ‘chakka jam’ protest. Shops and commercial establishments were closed, transport affected and traffic disrupted in many states, with the maximum impact felt in states such as Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. Protesters blocked railway tracks at several places in West Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha. In Delhi, the markets remained mostly opened even as more farmers congregated near the border areas despite heavy security.
The bandh evoked a mixed response in Jharkhand with protests and demonstrations being held in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, Jamshedpur, Palamu, Dumka, Bokaro, Sahibganj and Pakur but no untoward incident was reported from anywhere, officials said. Government offices functioned as usual while private institutions and shops were closed in some areas. Local traffic was near normal but long-distance vehicles remained off the roads.
In Jammu, various organisations, including transporters, held peaceful protests to express solidarity with farmers. The bandh evoked a mixed response in Jammu region with most public transport staying off roads. Commuters faced problems and were seen walking a distance, but shops and business establishments remained partially open.
In another significant development, Prime Minister Modi dialled former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in the morning to wish him on his birthday amid bitterness between the former allies over the farmer protests, NDTV reported quoting sources.
On Monday, Badal, who turned 93, wrote to Modi urging him to ”show magnanimity” towards protesting farmers and scrap the controversial farm laws. The four-page letter also had pointed references to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee – one of the BJP’s tallest leaders – and the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.
Badal has already returned the Padma Vibhushan, India’s third highest civilian honour, in solidarity with the farmers. “The three Acts in question that have pushed the country into a deep turmoil must be withdrawn without making farmers and their families endure any more suffering in this biting cold,” Badal said in his letter.
According to ANI news agency, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar arrived at the residence of Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in Delhi.
Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleged that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was placed under “house arrest” by the police. This came after Kejriwal met the protesting farmers a day earlier. He has been forced to cancel his meetings, his party alleged.
The Delhi Police denied the charge.
“When our MLAs went to meet the chief minister they were beaten and thrown on the streets. The party volunteers were also not allowed to meet,” AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj claimed at a press conference.
However, Deputy Commissioner of Police for North Delhi, Anto Alphonse, denied the AAP’s allegations, dubbing them “lies” and “baseless”. “We are alert. Arvind Kejriwal left home at around 8 pm yesterday and returned around 10pm. There is no issue at all,” Alphonse said.
Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad was detained during the day at his home in Uttar Pradesh when he was on his way to join the “Bharat Bandh”.