The farmers are protesting against soaring operating costs and plunging produce prices.
New Delhi: Thousands of farmers, some barechested in the November cold and others carrying skulls of loved ones who committed suicide, gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi today to demand loan waivers and better prices for their produce. The protest paved the way for two political leaders -- Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal -- to come together on the same stage for the first time, along with representatives of like-minded parties. Mr Gandhi, in his address, said India currently faces two challenges: the bleak future of its farmers and unemployment of its youth. "The farmers seek what they are owed from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but all they get are empty speeches," he added. Mr Kejriwal, for his part, termed the centre's flagship insurance scheme for farmers as just another ploy to fleece them. The rally ended by evening, with the government offering no response or assurance.
Here are the top 10 updates on Kisan Mukti March:
- Mr Gandhi, in his address to the protesting farmers, said nobody -- not even the Narendra Modi government -- can silence the voice of farmers and the youth. "If an uncaring government insults them, they will make sure that it is removed," he declared, wondering why the ruling party is not willing to waive the loans of crores of farmers when it's willing to ignore Rs 3.5 lakh crore in dues owed by 15 big industrialists.
- CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury alleged that agricultural growth rate has plummeted under the Narendra Modi government, and termed the Prime Minister as a "pocket-maar who takes all your money and gives back a little as a sop". Comparing ruling party leaders to the Kauravas, he said they invoke the Ram Mandir every five years in an attempt to divide the people along religious lines.
- Mr Kejriwal, for his part, wondered why the centre was treating farmers in such a step-motherly fashion. "Your Bima Yojana for farmers is a fraud. Thousands of crores are taken from farmers' accounts, but when the crops are destroyed, conditions are cited. This is not a Bima Yojana, this is the BJP's daka yojana (dacoit scheme)," he claimed.
- Representatives of 21 political parties, including opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Sitaram Yechury, Farooq Abdullah and Sharad Yadav, stood together on the stage at the massive gathering. However, BJP leader Sambit Patra scoffed at the movement. "Having Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal on the same stage only means having drama and confusion on the same stage," he said.
- Nearly 35,000 marching farmers were stopped near the Parliament Street Police station. Farmer leaders addressed the protesters there after they were not allowed by the police to proceed further. Farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh reached Delhi on Thursday and spent the night at Ramlila Ground.
- A group of women from Telangana marched on the streets of Delhi with pictures of their farmer husbands, who had committed suicide due to agrarian woes, hung around their neck.
- Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India led a 26-km protest rally from Bijwasan to Ramlila Maidan on Thursday. Farmers from Odisha, Haryana and Rajasthan joined him. "We are protesting loot and exploitation of farmers. The entire country is with us. Journalists, doctors, students, artists have pledged their support," he said.
- The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee or AIKSCC, the umbrella body for farmers' groups, demanded a special session of parliament to pass bills seeking a loan waiver and better prices for crops. It has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join the protest march. Today's rally is the fourth major farmers rally led by the organisation in the last year and a half, which represents over 200 groups.
- "My wife and children have told me that I should fight and stay even for a week in Delhi, if needed," said Kartar Singh, a sugarcane farmer from Uttar Pradesh. He was among the thousands of farmers who braved the chilly night at Ramlila Ground.
- Veteran journalist P Sainath who spent time with the farmers last night pointed out to what he called a larger agrarian crisis. "What you are witnessing in the country is bigger than a drought. The farm suicide data has not been published in the last two years. The figures stopped at 2015," he told NDTV.
(With inputs from PTI, IANS and ANI)