Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s meeting with farmers at a village near Karnal this afternoon had to be cancelled as his chopper was unable to land at the venue, with protesters raging on the ground below. Farmers protesting against the Centre’s agri-sector reforms clashed with the police and the meeting venue was vandalised. Cellphone footage showed many of the protesters on the dais, throwing chairs, tearing up banners and posters.
The “kisan mahapanchayat” had been called to explain what the government says are the benefits of the three farm laws passed in September. With BJP leaders and ministers facing severe protests across the state over the farm laws, arrangements were made for heavy security and a number of police personnel were deployed at the village ahead of the meeting.
The farmers made it clear that they were in no mood to listen. By noon, hundreds had assembled at a toll plaza, where they were stopped by the police. But despite water cannons, tear gas and batons of the police, they managed to break the barricades and reach the venue of the event and pull down the preparations.
“Around 5,000 people were waiting for me to come and speak but it didn’t happen. In view of the protests, I asked the chopper to return as I did not wish to worsen the law and order situation,” the Chief Minister told the media later.
Blaming the opposition for the protests, he said “farmers never behave this way”.
“I want to say that there is strong democracy in the country and we all — people for and against anything — have the right to express our views. It is not good to stop anyone from speaking… We never stopped anyone from protesting. The Congress is trying to destroy democracy,” he added.
This morning, Congress’s Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Respected Manohar Lal ji, please stop this pretence of Kisan Mahapanchayat in Kemla village. By playing with the sentiments of those who provide us with food, please stop meddling with the law and order situation”.
“If you want to have a conversation, have it with those who have been protesting for the last 46 days,” read another tweet from Mr Surjewala.
BJP-ruled Haryana had made headlines in November when it decided to stop the farmers on way to Delhi from across the state. For days, there have been reports and video footage of the police trying to stop farmers bent on marching to Delhi, using batons, barricades, tear gas and water cannons.
Following huge criticism of the use of force on peaceful protesters, the BJP had decided to conduct a mega outreach programme to dispel “misconceptions” about the laws.
But the outreach programme had run into trouble in the state as farmers hardened their stance in Delhi. Round after round of meetings have failed to break the deadlock. But the farmers have been in no mood to relent.
More than 60 farmers have lost their lives – some for camping outdoors in the harsh winter, a few by suicide. Amarinder Singh, a farmer from Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib district, was the last to join the latter list.
On Friday, the protesters at Karnal had clashed with the villagers and the local BJP workers, who were promoting the Chief Minister’s visit. The face-off started when the villagers didn’t allow the farmers to enter into the village to register their protest.