Prime Minister Narendra Modi met farmers on Tuesday, not in Delhi where tens of thousands are sitting on dharna for the past 18 days to demand the repeal of the new farm laws his government has brought, but in Gujarat where he declared that the laws have the support of “almost the entire country”.
“Aaj kal, Dilli ke aas-paas kisano ko bhramit karne ki saazish chal rahi hai (These days, in Delhi’s vicinity, there is a conspiracy under way to mislead the farmers),” Modi said.
After claiming that farmers taking part in the largest such protest in recent memory were “misled”, Modi said his government was willing to hear them out. “I tell my farmer brothers once again, again and again, that the government is ready to solve each of their concerns,” he said.
The Prime Minister did not, however, offer to meet the protesting farmers who have already held several rounds of talks with his government.
More than 30 unions from Punjab alone and five national collectives, representing hundreds of farmers’ organisations from across the country, are protesting at Delhi’s borders against the three farm laws forced through Parliament in September.
Among the farmers invited to meet Modi in Gujarat on Tuesday were a group of Sikhs settled in Kutch. A news release issued by the Gujarat government’s information department before the visit specified that Sikh farmers had been invited. It was not clear why the invitation was extended and highlighted.
Several Sikh farmers, who started settling in barren land in Kutch after the 1965 war on the invitation of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, had faced eviction when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat. After Gujarat High Court ruled in favour of the farmers, the state government had gone to the Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, the Centre released an e-book on “PM Modi and his government’s special relationship with Sikhs”.
Punjab’s farmers have been at the vanguard of the protests against the three laws.
“I believe, our government’s honest intentions, honest efforts, which have the blessings of almost the entire country (kareeb kareeb poore desh), the blessings of farmers from every corner of the country… the strength of the blessings” would defeat those trying to “mislead” and do “politics”, Modi said.
The Prime Minister was speaking at a programme to lay the foundation for a renewable energy park in Kutch, Gujarat.
Modi broached the topic of the farmers’ protest at the fag end of his speech.
“They are being made to feel scared by being told that after the reforms, farmers’ land would be taken over by others,” Modi said. He asked the crowd: “Do dairy companies take your cows and buffaloes when you enter into an agreement with them to sell milk?”
Modi said the demand for the farm reform brought by his government was being made for long and that even the Opposition, when it was in government, had tried to bring it but couldn’t.
“But today, the same people are engaged in misleading the farmers,” he said.
Many farmers’ organisations have been demanding that they should have the freedom to sell their produce to anyone, he said.
Senior BJP leader and transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari, too, urged the protesters to discuss each clause of the new laws, claiming that the government was ready to address all their concerns.
Sticking to the tactic of vilifying the protesting farmers, Gadkari claimed he had seen pictures of Naxalites participating in the protests.