BOTH the Congress and NDA’s erstwhile ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Sunday condemned the summons and notices by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to farm leaders, journalists and an NGO protesting against the three farm laws alleging that the Centre was using the agency to intimidate those opposed to it.
“Will you now send notices to the farmers of this country from an agency which probes terrorists? The farmers of this country are called terrorists, Naxalites, agent of China, agent of Pakistan… Journalists are sent NIA notices, farmers are sent NIA notice…(there’s an) income tax raid on arhatiya… What does the Modi government think? That by using these agencies to scare and threaten farmers… they will bow down. Nobody has been able to subjugate the farmers,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala told reporters in Delhi.
The NIA has issued notices and summons to several persons including Baldev Singh Sirsa, President of Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society, and a member of the delegation in talks with the government on farm laws; Punjabi actor Deep Singh Sidhu, who is supporting the protests; three businessmen who started a bus service from Ludhiana to Delhi to transport farmers; three journalists vocal on protests; Khalsa Aid, an NGO, and some Sikh youths.
Sirsa has been asked to appear at the NIA headquarters in New Delhi on January 17.
SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal said the Central government did not find anything wrong with Khalsa Aid when it provided humanitarian aid in Gujarat but has “unleashed” the NIA on the NGO for stepping in to help farmers protesting peacefully.
Meanwhile, some of those who received the NIA summons decided not to appear.
“Deep Singh Sidhu (who was to appear before the NIA on Sunday) did not appear before NIA today. His brother (Mandeep Singh), who has been asked to present himself before the agency on January 19, will also not appear,” said Advocate Hakam Singh, who represents the brothers.
He said he was planning to file a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to seek transit bail for all those who have received notices.
Said a volunteer, who appeared before the NIA following summons, on the condition that he not be named: “I have no link with SFJ (Sikh for Justice). I was surprised they have every detail of mine. I am scared, and have given them all the details they wanted. I do not know if they are satisfied.”
“The Centre thinks it can weaken the farm protest by such intimidatory measures. Little does it know that the Kisan Andolan is only getting stronger due to these repressive steps,” the Akali Dal chief told reporters in Ferozepur district where a local BJP leader joined the Akali Dal with his supporters.
Punjab Congress President Sunil Kumar Jakhar said the BJP was trying to vilify the farming community and Punjabis. “Not only are they trying to browbeat the farmers, they are also undermining their support system.”
The notices exposed the government’s “forked tongue”, he said. “Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the farmers should not be discredited. But BJP leaders from Punjab and Haryana kept calling them names. The NIA notices are a clear design of the BJP and lend credence to those who vilified farmers,” Jakhar said.
Responding to the NIA notice, NGO Khalsa Aid, said, “A large scale indiscriminate NIA investigation of this nature against voluntary agencies, groups and individuals, who provide humanitarian support is unprecedented in Indian history. Our team will cooperate and answer any queries raised by the NIA team.”
On Saturday, raising questions on the timing of the summons, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Bibi Jagir Kaur condemned what she called the Centre’s “tactics for stifling the voice of farmers protesting against the black agriculture laws.”
The NIA, which is probing multiple cases of terror against Sikh For Justice, registered a fresh case against the proscribed organisation on December 15, 2020.
The FIR alleges that SFJ is trying to recruit youth for terror acts, and is sending foreign funds through NGOs to “pro-Khalistani” elements in India to precipitate “on-ground campaign and propaganda against Government of India”.
The NIA FIR, registered on a reference from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, alleged that “huge funds are being collected abroad for on-ground campaign and propaganda against Government of India including staging demonstrations outside Indian missions in countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Germany and so forth.”
The FIR named SFJ leaders Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, Hardeep Singh Nijjar and Paramjit Pamma — all of whom are said to be based in foreign countries — as the accused.
Last week, Attorney General K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the Government has “been informed there is a Khalistani infiltration” in the farmers’ protests on Delhi’s outskirts.
Farmers’ unions have denied any links and say this is a ploy by the Centre to discredit the protests and the protesters.