- Congress has sought President's intervention for withdrawal of farm laws
- The party says that the memorandum has two crore signatures
- Thousands of farmers have been protesting near Delhi for nearly a month
Congress leaders led by Rahul Gandhi, marching to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, were stopped by the police before a small delegation was allowed to enter the presidential palace to submit to President Ram Nath Kovind a memorandum seeking his intervention for the withdrawal of the farm laws against which thousands of farmers have been protesting near Delhi for nearly a month. Mr Gandhi's sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and several other leaders, were taken into preventive custody by the police and sent away in a bus to a police station after they were stopped. There were released a short while later.
The appeal to the President has two crore signatures, urging his intervention for repealing the three controversial laws.
"I want to tell the Prime Minister that these farmers are not going to go back home until these farm laws are repealed. The government should convene a joint session of parliament and take back these laws. Opposition parties stand with farmers and labourers," Mr Gandhi said after meeting the President. He also attacked PM Modi and the government, saying there was "no democracy" in India and those who stood up against the PM were labelled terrorists, "even if it was (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat".
"Any dissent against this government is classified as having elements of terror. We are undertaking this march to voice our support for the farmers," Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said, sitting on the road.
Shortly thereafter, Ms Gandhi-Vadra again hit out at the centre, calling the government a "sinner". "Sometimes they say we are so weak that we don't qualify as Opposition and sometimes, they say that we are so powerful that we have made lakhs of farmers camp at the border (of Delhi) for a month. They should first decide what we are," she told reporters from inside the green, DTC bus in which she and other leaders were kept.
"It is a sin to use the kind of names they used for farmers. If the government is calling them anti-nationals, then the government is a sinner," she said.
Before starting the march from central Delhi's Vijay Chowk, Mr Gandhi met with senior Congress leaders at the party headquarters where leaders gave speeches on the farm laws.
"Only the leaders, who have permission, will be allowed (to go to Rashtrapati Bhavan)," police officer Pragya said.
Opposition parties, which tried to block the farm bills in parliament, had earlier requested the President not to sign on the bills. The bills, they had said, were passed in the Rajya Sabha in an undemocratic manner. The President, however, had given his assent to all three bills. Rahul Gandhi was part of the opposition's meeting with President Kovind on December 9.
Thousands of farmers, who have braved water cannons, tear gas and police barricades, began their protest last month against the farm laws, aimed at doing away with middlemen and allowing them to sell produce anywhere in the country.
The government has been urging the farmers to engage in further talks to end the deadlock. On Wednesday, farmer groups said they are ready to hold with the government talks but are waiting for the government to hold discussions with an open mind and present concrete proposals that are acceptable.
(With inputs from ANI)