India’s opposition boycotts Parliament in solidarity with farmers

Opposition parties shun the opening day of Parliament’s budget session as farmers continue to protest against new farm laws.

Farmers stand next to a fire at Singhu border near New Delhi [File: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

Main Indian opposition parties have boycotted the opening day of Parliament’s budget session in solidarity with farmers engaged in a two-month standoff over new agricultural laws the government refuses to repeal.

A statement by the Congress party on Friday said 16 opposition parties boycotted the president’s address to Parliament “in full solidarity with the agitating farmers, whom the Modi government is trying to defame”.

The address to Parliament by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind listing the government’s priorities for the budget was boycotted by several opposition parties.

The budget is to be presented on Monday.

Sanjay Singh, an Aam Aadmi Party member of parliament, told India’s ANI news agency his party “protested against the president’s address and raised slogans in support of farmers”.

“We were not allowed inside the [parliament’s] central hall, so we raised slogans at its gate. Farmers are being called traitors. So, we boycotted the address,” he said.

“Farm laws should be repealed.”

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said “it is really unfortunate that the entire opposition boycotted” the president’s address.

In his address, President Kovind also described the violence on Tuesday as “unfortunate” and said people in a democracy are expected to respect the rule of law.

Clashes break out

On Friday, clashes broke out between protesting farmers and a group of men shouting anti-farmer and pro-police slogans at Singhu border – one of the sites of the protests that started in late November. Authorities used tear gas and batons to break up the fight.

Farmers’ leaders accused local police and politicians of instigating skirmishes at the site on the outskirts of New Delhi.

In a standoff between the riot police and the farmers, authorities on Thursday night tried to clear a protest site at Ghazipur in the city’s east but most farmers refused to move and large numbers joined them.

Their leaders said any retreat would constitute surrender.

“Concerned over police high-handedness, thousands of farmers, who were not part of the protest, have now come to bolster our movement,” Rakesh Tikait, president of one of the largest farmers unions, the Bharatiya Kisan Union, told Reuters news agency on Friday.

Red Fort violence

On Tuesday, as India celebrated its Republic Day, tens of thousands of farmers riding tractors and on foot stormed the Mughal-era Red Fort in a brief but shocking takeover that played out live on news channels.

Clashes between protesters and government forces left one protester dead and nearly 400 police officers injured.

After the violence, three smaller groups among more than 40 farmers’ organisations disassociated themselves from the protest.

Police said they have arrested 19 protesters and detained 50 others for questioning under strict sedition and other laws, and top leaders of the farmers were being sought for questioning.

Traffic crawled on the outskirts of the Indian capital on Friday as authorities rushed hundreds of riot police to three of the farmers’ campsites hoping to convince the protesters to go home.

But the farmers have pledged to stay until the laws are repealed, but several rounds of talks with the government have failed.

The protests have been the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014. He says the new laws are necessary to modernise Indian farming.

But the farmers say the new laws will turn agriculture corporate and remove a system that guarantees minimum prices for their produce.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies