Another round of talks between district officials and farmers protesting over a police lathi-charge last month failed on Wednesday and the protesters said they will continue their sit-in “indefinitely” at the district headquarters in Karnal, Haryana.
Into the second day of the dharna, farm leaders said they will stay put at the gate of the complex but will not stop officials and the public from entering it.
Their demands centre around the suspension of IAS officer Ayush Sinha, who was caught on tape allegedly telling policemen to break heads of farmers if they cross the line during their August 28 protest.
About 10 farmers were hurt that day when police used force to stop them from marching to the venue of a BJP event in Karnal.
The sit-in outside the Karnal mini-secretariat, following a kisan mahapanchayat in the same city, began on Tuesday evening after talks between district officials and the farm leaders failed.
The farmers then began marching towards the office complex. Along with some Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) leaders, many spent the night outside its main entrance.
In the morning, volunteers at the protest site were seen preparing tea and serving breakfast, including ‘langar’ from the nearby gurudwaras.
The district administration invited a delegation of SKM leaders — including Rakesh Tikait, Yogendra Yadav and Gurnam Singh Chaduni — for a meeting at 2 pm in another bid to end the standoff. But the standoff continued.
“We have to say this with regret that the talks failed completely because the government is adopting an adamant and insensitive attitude,” Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav told reporters after the three-hour meeting.
“There is no change in their attitude from what was witnessed yesterday,” he charged.
Yadav said the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police were at the meeting, joined later by the Karnal divisional commissioner.
He and Tikait claimed that the local administration was taking directions from Chandigarh, a reference to the BJP-led Haryana government.
Yadav said the farmers had earlier demanded the registration of a murder charge against the IAS officer.
“Leave alone registering a case against him despite sufficient video evidence, the government is not even ready to suspend him,” he said.
This indicated, Yadav claimed, that he was not giving instructions to policemen on his own but had directions from the government.
Karnal is Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s home constituency.
Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait too charged that the state government is trying to save the officer.
“So we have decided that our dharna will continue here at the same site. Farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab will also keep joining the dharna site here,” he said.
He said the protest will continue until the government agrees to the demands or the issue is resolved.
The western Uttar Pradesh-based leader said the farmers will take care that work at the secretariat is not disturbed and the public is not inconvenienced because of their protest. He said farmers are putting up tents at the dharna site.
Haryana BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni said the dharna will continue indefinitely round the clock.
The protest leaders had also claimed that a farmer died after the August 28 violence, an allegation rejected by the administration.
Sub Divisional Magistrate Sinha was transferred days after the controversy over his “break heads” remark, but the move was part of a larger bureaucratic shuffle in Haryana.
Meanwhile, the movement of traffic on the Delhi-Karnal-Ambala National Highway-44 remained normal.
Security had been beefed up on Monday, a day before the kisan mahapanchayat at Karnal’s New Anaj Mandi where farmers arrived, riding tractors and motorcycles.
From there, in the evening, they marched on foot to the mini-secretariat about five kilometres away.
The Haryana Home Department had extended the suspension of mobile internet services in Karnal until Wednesday midnight as the situation was “still volatile”.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) banning gathering of people had been imposed in the district on Monday.
For a month now, farmers have been sitting on dharnas at Delhi’s borders, demanding that the three agri-marketing laws enacted by the Centre should be withdrawn. Union leaders claim the law will lead to the dilution of the minimum support price (MSP) at which farmers sell their crops to government agencies.