A "Delhi Chalo" protest march by thousands of farmers caused a heated back-and-forth between two Chief Ministers today after farmers from Punjab faced tear gas and water cannons and clashed with the police when they were stopped at the Haryana border.
While Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh flagged the "irony" of police action by Haryana against protesters on a day the country marked Constitution Day, his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar accused him of inciting the farmers.
"It's a sad irony that on Constitution Day, the constitutional right of farmers is being oppressed in this manner. Let them pass ML Khattar ji, don't push them to the brink. Let them take their voice to Delhi peacefully," tweeted Mr Singh.
Then came a sharp retort from Mr Khattar, who wrote: "I've been trying to reach out to you for the last 3 days but sadly you decided to stay unreachable - is this how serious you are for farmer's issues? You're only tweeting and running away from talks, Why?"
It's a sad irony that on #ConstitutionDay2020 the constitutional right of farmers is being oppressed in this manner. Let them pass @mlkhattar ji, don't push them to the brink. Let them take their voice to Delhi peacefully. pic.twitter.com/48P0rvILVU— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 26, 2020
I've been trying to reach out to you for the last 3 days but sadly you decided to stay unreachable - is this how serious you are for farmer's issues? You're only tweeting and running away from talks, Why?— Manohar Lal (@mlkhattar) November 26, 2020
Mr Singh had earlier also tweeted: "Why is the ML Khattar government in Haryana stopping the farmers from moving to Delhi? The tyrannical use of brute force against peacefully protesting farmers is totally undemocratic and unconstitutional."
Farmers from six states - Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab - have been planning the November 26-27 march for two months to press the central government to repeal the three new farm laws.
Farmers from Congress-ruled Punjab said they had sought permission from the Haryana government to cross the state to reach Delhi, which was denied.
Farmers faced water cannons at various points of entry and, after a two-hour clash on a bridge at the Ambala-Karnal border (CORRECT?), were able to push back scores of policemen and cross into Haryana.
Responding to Mr Khattar's accusation, the Punjab Chief Minister told NDTV: "We never incited them. Who is inciting the farmers in Haryana? This (protests against farm laws) is a natural reaction from them. Associations had told farmers to sit peacefully. Whenever, they tried to cross over, and if there was any action from Haryana, there was a reaction."
"Do I need to spell out where the cheap politics and deception is happening," Mr Singh said about Mr Khattar's tweet accusing him of "putting the lives of people in danger during the Coronavirus pandemic".
He also called out the farmers' apparent mistrust in Haryana government's promise to continue with the minimum support price (MSP) system. "Why are Haryana farmers are marching to Delhi?" Mr Singh questioned.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Singh had urged Mr Khattar to let the farmers cross Haryana to make their voice heard in Delhi.
"Don't push them to the brink... The hands that feed the nation deserve to be held, not pushed aside," tweeted Mr Singh, tagging the BJP and urging it to tell states where it is in power - Haryana and Uttar Pradesh - "not to indulge in such strong-arm tactics against the farmers".
The Haryana chief minister hit back: "Time for your lies, deception and propaganda is over -- let the people see your real face."
He added in another post: "Please stop putting the lives of people in danger during the corona pandemic. I urge you not to play with the lives of the people - at least avoid cheap politics during the time of the pandemic."
Mr Singh expressed shock at his response. "Shocked at your response @mlkhattar ji. It''s the farmers who''ve to be convinced on MSP, not me. You should''ve tried to talk to them before their #DilliChalo. And if you think I''m inciting farmers then why are Haryana farmers also marching to Delhi," he asked.
"As for endangering lives during Covid, have you forgotten that it was BJP-led central government that pushed through those farm laws amid the pandemic, uncaring about the impact they would have on our farmers? Why didn't you speak out then Khattar ji?"
The farmers believe the new laws enacted in September threaten their livelihood in absence of guaranteed minimum price for their produce.
The central government maintains that the laws are meant to bring reforms and improve farmers' earnings by allowing them to sell their produce in the commercial market, anywhere in the country. The BJP-led dispensation has accused opposition parties of trying to mislead farmers on provisions of these laws.