Minister sees farmer ‘stunt’

Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh on Saturday termed the two-day-old farmer agitation a publicity stunt, prompting accusations of “insensitivity” and of “insulting” the farmers. “Any organisation will have 500, 1,000, 2,000 or 40,000 farmers, and they have to do something unique to appear in the media,” Singh said in Patna on Saturday.

He said the country had “12 to 14 crore farmers” and an agitation by a few would have no impact.

Some 172 peasants’ bodies across northern and western India have decided not to sell their produce to the cities from June 1 to 10. Farmers have been dumping their produce on highways, demanding a higher minimum support price and loan waivers. Shakeel Ahmed of the Congress condemned Singh’s comment as “insensitive” and tweeted: “When our farmers are committing suicide, this statement is really cruel.”

Singh’s Madhya Pradesh counterpart Balakrishna Patidar was quoted as saying: “No farmers are participating in the strike. Farmers are happy with the schemes of the chief minister.”

Union agriculture secretary S.K. Pattanayak has said the Centre is talking to the states to deal with the issue rather than intervene directly.

Police caned protesters in Jaipur on Friday for blocking a highway with dumped vegetables, the farmers responding by throwing tomatoes.

Rahul Gandhi is expected to address a rally in Mandsaur on June 6, the first anniversary of the death of six farmers in police firing in the Madhya Pradesh district.

An agitation leader, Basavaraj Patil of Rashtriya Swabhiman, termed the ministers’ statements an “insult to farmers”.

Hannan Mollah of the CPM-supported All India Kisan Sabha said: “Ministers have a track record of calling agitating peasants names such as ‘anarchist’, ‘riotous’ and so on.”

Tejkaran Harsh

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