Farmers protesting the agriculture laws lashed out at the centre Sunday for its "oppressive attitude" after the NIA summoned 40 protest members and supporters, including Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu, as "witnesses" in a case against Sikhs for Justice - a banned separatist group.
Addressing reporters from Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border, where thousands have gathered since late November to demand the repeal of the controversial laws, farmer leader Shivkumar Kakka accused the centre of "torturing" those who were supporting the movement.
"NIA has started to register cases against those who are a part of the farmers' movement or those who have lent their support to it. All farmers' unions condemn this. We will fight this in every possible way," Darshan Pal, another farmer leader, said.
Earlier today farmer leaders Baldev Singh Sirsa and Manjeet Singh Rai said the summons were a sign of the centre weakening after a weeks-long stand-off that has seen several violent clashes with police, the deaths of dozens of farmers and an intervention by the Supreme Court.
"The NIA is not doing this... this is the work of a government that boasts of a 56-inch chest (a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi). Today that chest has shrunk.. that government is weakened by our struggle. The government is trying to divide us but they have failed," Manjeet Singh Rai told NDTV.
Mr Sirsa, who is one of those to receive the summons, declared it a ploy by the centre to derail the farmers' movement, and added that he had not even been formally informed about the call.
"I got to know about my summons through a journalist. Then I received it on my WhatsApp... I was asked to join the probe today but I didn't go. The government is trying to weaken us," he said.
Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu, who has emerged as a fierce and vocal supporter of the farmers and their struggle, was asked to appear at the NIA's headquarters in Delhi. He too did not appear.
Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has also accused the centre of trying to intimidate farmer leaders and those supporting them through central agencies. "... They aren't anti-nationals... absolutely clear that the government is only trying to tire out farmers," he tweeted.
Strongly condemn Centre's attempts to intimidate farmer leaders & supporters of #KisanAndolan by calling them for questioning by #NIA & ED. They aren't anti-nationals. And after failure of talks for the 9th time, it's absolutely clear that GOI is only trying to tire out farmers. pic.twitter.com/3x5T8VNdph— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) January 16, 2021
On Tuesday the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the laws, and criticised the centre for its apparent inability to resolve an agitation that has rumbled on for several weeks.
The court also ordered a committee to be set up to resolve the dispute, but it was swiftly pointed out that the members (all court-appointed) were advocates of the laws. The farmers welcomed the stay, but refused to negotiate with the committee.
Nine rounds of talks have been held so far with no breakthrough. Ahead of a tenth on Tuesday Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar claimed most farmers were in favour of the laws.
The farmers fear the laws will allow large corporate firms to bully them into selling at lower prices; they want the laws scrapped and a legal guarantee for MSP. The centre, which has stressed that the laws will benefit farmers and not be repealed, has offered a written guarantee for MSP.
On Sunday evening the farmers also announced that they would go through with a planned tractor rally and march to Delhi on January 26 (Republic Day).