The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 25-11-2022 | 02:45 pm
Late on Thursday night, on the sixth day of his hunger strike, the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Sidhupur) chief Jagjit Singh Dallewal, ended his fast after Punjab agriculture minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal apologised over Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Bhagwant Mann’s remarks against farmers’ recurrent stirs and announced that the government has reached a consensus with the protesting farmers over their various demands following marathon talks.It was for the third time that Dallewal, who also heads the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Apolitical), went on a hunger strike over the last five years. It was first in February 2018 when the BKU (Sidhupur) was marching towards Delhi to demand the Swaminathan Commission report’s implementation in order to ensure proper prices for farmers’ produce. His union was stopped at Cheema Mandi in Sangrur by the administration for 28 days before they resumed it again. Subsequently, Dallewal joined noted social activist Anna Hazare’s hunger strike in Delhi on March 23, 2018, held on various issues including Lokpal and agrarian distress, which continued till March 28 that year.On January 1, 2019, Dallewal again followed Hazare in starting a hunger strike for five days in Chandigarh over various issues relating to the farm crisis, when the latter was on fast in his Ralegan Siddhi village in Maharashtra.This time Dallewal began his fast on November 19 at Tehna T-point on NH-54 in Faridkot over farmers’ multiple demands including higher compensation for their land acquired for national highway projects, withdrawal of cases registered against them during the agitation against the now-repealed central farm laws, jobs for kin of those who lost their lives during the farm stir, and removal of red entries from revenue records for burning paddy stubble.Dallewal decided to launch his hunger strike immediately after CM Mann’s statement hitting out at the farmer unions for frequently staging protests by blocking roads to get their demands fulfilled. “It has become a trend. First, they hold a dharna to seek a meeting with the government. Then they stage another dharna when the talks are held. Yet another is staged to demand issuing of notification. It looks like it has become a ‘riwaaz’ (trend),” CM Mann said on November 18.“Though farmers had been taking up their pending demands ever since the new AAP government came to power and had started dharna at six highways across Punjab from November 16 onwards but Punjab CM gave his statement on November 18 due to which pardhanji (Dallewal) sat on hunger strike from November 19. Though we had been protesting for a list of 41 demands but now a key demand is that Punjab CM should feel sorry for his remarks,” said Nirmal Singh, general secretary of the BKU (Sidhupur), Muktsar unit, charging that “CM also said that unions organise dharnas to get funds collected.”Dallewal, 65, hails from Dallewal village in Faridkot district. He became the BKU(Sidhupur) president in July 2017. He was a member of the coordination committee of the SKM — an umbrella body of farmer unions, which was formed when farmers reached Delhi’s borders in November 2020 in protest against the Centre’s three contentious farm laws. The BKU(Sidhupur) claims to be currently active in about 2600 villages in 19 districts across Punjab.On July 10 this year, Dallewal along with leaders of several farmer unions formed their breakaway group, the SKM (Apolitical), in protest against the SKM’s move to reinduct about 16 farmer unions of Punjab into its fold despite their plunge into the Punjab Assembly polls through a new body Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM).After sitting on his latest hunger strike, Dallewal said: “Punjab CM Mann did a meeting with SKM (Apolitical) in May, September and October, agreed to most of our demands but no notification has been issued. Farmers had been sitting outside deputy commissioners’ offices in various districts of Punjab for 3-4 months but when it went unheard our dharnas started on highways in Faridkot, Patiala, Amritsar, Bathinda , Mansa and Hoshiarpur. And soon afterwards the CM gave a statement that we have made a ‘riwaaz’ of organising dharnas… Mann needs to recall the March 2018 Cheema Mandi dharna when various AAP MLAs including he as the then Sangrur MP had sat on roads with us. In fact AAP is a party formed out of dharnas. So how can they accuse us, it is an insult to the farmers.”Although most of the other farmer union leaders have been silent on Dallewal’s hunger strike, Ruldu Singh Mansa, president of Punjab Kisan Union, charged, “It seems Dallewal is with BJP. During the Kisan Andolan too we felt a number of times that he worked to divide the agitation… I don’t think that by organising traffic jams or by doing hunger strike at this stage we can resolve the issues. We should let the (AAP) government work for sometime and continue putting pressure on them as well.”Dallewal agreed to end his hunger strike days after the AAP leaders and the administration made efforts to persuade him to do so. On November 24 night, Punjab agriculture minister Dhaliwal offered juice to him as he broke his fast. Dallewal told reporters that farmers’ protests continuing in six regions of Punjab would also immediately come to an end.Dhaliwal said, “We held a marathon meeting today. It is a matter of happiness that we have reached a consensus. Chief Minister Mann had agreed to most of the demands already, but notification for some of the demands was yet to be issued. We have issued some notifications today,” he said, adding that the government would hold another meeting with the farmers’ delegation in Chandigarh on December 16.“CM’s statement about dharnas has led to some confusion in the minds of farmer leaders. I want to clarify that Bhagwant Mann is a farmer’s son and his intentions are always for the welfare of the farmers. However, if anyone has felt hurt due to any of the words spoken by CM, we are sorry for that. Farmers are our family. AAP is a party of farmers and labourers and we will always think of their welfare,” Dhaliwal said.