All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti leader Hannan Mollah has been striving to nationalise the protest ever since the farmers from Punjab gathered at the borders of Delhi. Mollah has been at the forefront of different farmers' organisations and protests in the last ten years. Mollah spoke to Madhyamam after repeated negotiations with the government failed.
Did Narendra Singh Tomar, Minister of Agriculture, offer any hope before the meeting with home minister Amit Shah?
♦ Nothing. The first negotiation with the government was on December 1st. Forty of us farmer leaders attended that day. On behalf of the government, there was Minister of Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar, Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and a Punjabi MP joined. We had clarified that there must be a discussion on the demands of farmers. Ours has been a six month old struggle. When they brought in the controversial laws as ordinances, we burnt thousands of its copies across the country. Later, when they passed the bill in the parliament, we protested. But the Centre didn't heed us. Once they passed it, we demanded that implementation without a discussion with farmers be stalled. They didn't heed that either. They passed the law without a discussion. We had no alternative but to protest. These laws were made without lawful dialogue that must be held before passing laws. They did not call for opinions and criticism after drafting the bill either. The government said that it discussed with 90 lakh farmers before formulating the law. We demanded that they present us with nine farmers they met, if not 90 lakhs. It was a big lie.
The farmers from Punjab have been protesting for the last two months. It is only once they moved to Delhi that the protests have gained national attention. How did farmers' outfits from across the country join this protest started by the Punjab farmers?
♦It is the protest which was started two months ago by 32 farmers' outfits in Punjab that has now reached the borders of Delhi.
Of these 32 bodies, ten are from the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanyav Samiti (AIKSS). Three years ago, 250 farmers' bodies across the country came together to make AIKSS. Once the protests by the farmers of Punjab strengthened, AIKSS convened and decided that the demands of the farmers from Punjab would be theirs as well and extended solidarity. Together, they formed Samyukth Kisan Morcha. The 'Delhi Chalo' march was organized on November 26th and 27th. Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh reached the borders of Delhi. It is only then that the government agreed to negotiate with the farmers on December 1st.
What was the position of ministers at the first meeting? Did they put forth any new formulae in subsequent negotiations?
♦The ministers said that they will make changes in the laws considering our disagreements. But we responded collectively that we want the laws repealed. Amendments are not the solution. It is like giving cholera medications to a tuberculosis patient. The new laws are anti-farmer. Amendments will not change the nature of the laws. We told the ministers with finality that this is why we are demanding the repeal of the laws and we wouldn't hear of anything less than that. They repeated the same thing at the second meeting. At the last discussion which happened at Vignan Bhavan, farmers spoke harshly and were prepared to walk-out.
What angered the farmer leaders?
♦Even at the last negotiation, ministers repeated their previous stance. We kept mum after informing them clearly that we are not here for sermons but only to hear what they would do regarding our demands. All 40 ministers sounded the same. Nowhere in history would there be another incident when a discussion between protesting bodies and the government had been so monotonous. When we refused to talk for two hours, Narendra Singh Tomar and Piyush Goyal went out and returned after 15 minutes. The Minister of Agriculture said that they understand the demands of the farmers to repeal the laws but as they can't decide by themselves, they would return in two days after discussing with higher authorities. After deciding on December 9th for the next meeting, we left.
Why did negotiations fail despite the arrival of the Home Minister Amit Shah?
♦While we were waiting for the meeting scheduled on 9th, we received a call from Amit Shah's office on the eve of 8th. Being a prominent leader, we expected that he would be able to do better. Shah, Goyal and Tomar were present. Amit Shah requested that we accept the proposal put forth by Tomar and agree to the government's position that the laws would be amended. Agitated by his repetition of the same, we responded to him harshly. We told him that we had come expecting that big leaders would be able to do better but then he came with a lower minister's recommendation. We asked him if we hadn't been repeating that amendments wouldn't suffice from December 1st. We told him sternly that this wouldn't suffice. The meeting ended when Amit Shah said that he would inform us of the government's stance in a written document.
What was in Amit Shah's document?
♦It was a sheer betrayal. The document repeated the proposal which we had been refusing and resisting these ten days. It was a copy of a PowerPoint presentation. Farmers' unions gathered at the Singhu border on 9th and condemned the betrayal. Everybody was aware that the government was lying to us and betraying us through these discussions. Once they failed to convince the farmers, they started accusing us. They alleged that political parties are the ones behind these protests. We haven't given space to a single leader from any political party in this protest.
In Ghazipur, political leaders who came were returned by the farmers. Is this a decision by the Samiti?
♦With the arrival of political leaders, the government will place the allegation on them and derail our protests. Hence we decided not to ally with any political party. This is entirely a farmers' agitation. They are trying to employ the Goebbelsian tactic of repeating a lie several times to make it appear the truth.
What are the tactics that the government has been employing to counter the protests?
♦Initially, they called us khalistanis. Then they sought to make this a Hindu-Muslim problem. But Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh farmers came together proclaiming we are farmers. Now they are saying that Pakistan and China are behind these protests. They are also claiming that 70 crore farmers are anti-nationals. Farmers are not agents of any foreign country. Modi and Amit Shah are agents of America. With the support of the people, we will overcome all these allegations. The public backing received for the Bharat Bandh is proof of it. With this support, we will go forth with the protest with larger numbers. More will join us.
(This interview published in Madhyamam Daily was translated by Anan Ashraf)