Wednesday 1 February 2023
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PoliticsIndiaAgitation by UP farmers regain momentum; demonstrations lose steam in Punjab, Haryana

Agitation by UP farmers regain momentum; demonstrations lose steam in Punjab, Haryana

Police remain on high alert while the administrations suspended internet services again at all venues of farmer's stir around Delhi

Even as farmers from Punjab and Haryana, on the forefront of their agitation for more than two months, have hardly made news since their rioting on the Republic Day, farm union leaders held a day-long fast at the protest sites on Delhi’s borders with Uttar Pradesh while the capital’s border with Haryana was less eventful. Farmers from western Uttar Pradesh went ahead with their decision to hold fast on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s death anniversary today, with their stir against the agriculture-reforming laws regaining momentum.

The farmers’ crowd was huge at the Ghazipur protest site on the Delhi-Meerut Highway. It is the new focal point of the agitation. Union leaders claimed that protesters were heading back to Singhu and Tikri borders from Punjab and Haryana, days after the crowds had waned following the violence at the tractor rally on 26 January.

Police remain on high alert while the administration suspended internet services temporarily again at the Singhu, Ghazipur, and Tikri borders of Delhi and the adjoining areas.

The suspension of internet services in 14 districts of Haryana continues.

The union and state governments have deployed security staff, including those from anti-riot police and paramilitary forces, in strength. Multiple layers of barricades including concrete blocks were being put at the protest sites.

Wearing garlands, the farmer leaders, who had called for observing ‘Sadbhavana Diwas’ (Harmony Day) on Saturday after the immense outrage over violence by protesters during their Republic Day tractor rally, sat on the dais during the fast, as crowds of supporters swelled, especially in Ghazipur where the Bharatiya Kisan Union is leading the protest.

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Rakesh Tikait addressing supporters at the Ghazipur border

Addressing the protesters in Ghazipur, BKU leader Rakesh Tikait, whose emotional appeal had galvanised farmers from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to flock to the protest site, said they have fought this battle for over two months now, and “they won’t relent or retreat”.

“The movement was and is strong,” BKU’s Meerut Zone president Pawan Khatana said, a day after tens of thousands of farmers from politically sensitive western Uttar Pradesh had gathered in Muzaffarnagar to participate in a mahapanchayat in a massive outpouring of support for the Bharatiya Kisan Union-led protest.

Pankaj Pradhan, 52, head of Charaura village in Bulandshahr, who arrived in the afternoon along with seven other people to Ghazipur border protest site, became emotional, recalling the night of January 28.

“We were all awake, watching Tikait ji crying, some were glued to TV sets, others on mobile phones, and we all felt restless. I was moved to tests too, and women too got emotional. But, his tears touched a chord with everyone, and made them connect stronger to the agitation,” he said.

Farmers also came from Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and other parts of Uttar Pradesh, many of whom addressed the crowd at the protest site.

A multitude of green-and-white caps, symbolic of the unions spearheading the battle, union flags and the tricolour, planted on tractors, dotted the highway. On various tractors and camps, photos of legendary farmer leaders such as Chaudhary Charan Singh and Mahendra Singh Tikait have been put up.

Khatana, who is at the demonstration site with Tikait, said there has been continuous support for the “peaceful protest” against the farmers’ demand for removal of the new agri laws.

Image 2
Farmers raise slogans at Ghazipur border as they observe a hunger strike on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s death anniversary

“This is not a political protest. Anybody who shares the ideology of the BKU and Rakesh Tikait is welcome here. But it is our appeal to those who do not wish to support the agitation till the end that please do not come only to leave in between,” he said.

Several opposition parties including the Congress, TMC AAP, RLD and the Left have openly supported the stir.

Abhimanyu Kohar, a senior member of Samkyukt Kisan Morcha which is an umbrella body of farmer unions, said the ongoing agitation will gain strength as farmers in large numbers will join them in the coming days.

Anil Chaudhary, who came from Bulandshahr too, rued what happened at Red Fort and in the streets of Delhi on January 26, and said, “it did hurt our morale”.

“But, we feel stronger now, and Tikaitji’s tears brought me here. Every person in my village is touched by his emotional appeal. And, our solidarity will only grow from here, even though they may stack up odds against us,” he said.

Farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said in Chandigarh that he expects a record gathering by February 2 at the border points of Delhi.

“People in large numbers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand are reaching the protest sites,” Rajewal claimed, something reporters do not see on the ground in Punjab for sure.

The president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) also condemned the violence in Delhi on the Republic Day and said it was unfortunate.

“Possibly by February 2, there will again be a record gathering of people at the protest sites,” he said, adding that the agitation would remain peaceful.

Rajewal also criticised the Haryana government for suspending internet services.

He accused the Centre of instilling a sense of fear among people by showing pictures of the “unfortunate incidents”, apparently referring to the January 26 violence in the national capital.

Rajewal appealed to those joining the agitation at Delhi’s borders to keep the protest peaceful.

“It is our responsibility to keep the agitation peaceful,” he stressed.

The farmer leader appealed to the Centre to shun its “stubborn attitude” and withdraw the three farm laws.

Asked about the next meeting between the protesting farmers and the government, he said, “When they call us, we will certainly go”.

To a question on joining the investigation following notices issued by the Delhi Police to farmer leaders in connection with the Republic Day violence, Rajewal said, “We will send them a reply.”

Image 3
INLD leader Abhay Chautala attends the farmers protest at Ghazipur border

The Delhi Police have issued the notices to around 20 farmer leaders, including Rajewal, over the violence during the farmers’ tractor parade, asking why legal action should not be taken against them.

A team of forensic experts on Saturday visited the Red Fort, where the protesters had indulged in vandalism, hoisted a religious flag and attacked the police personnel, to collect evidence.
Heavy security deployment, including personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), Rapid Action Force (RAF) in anti-riot gears and civil police, continued at the protest site.

Police had on Friday used tear gas and baton charge to break up a clash between farmers and a large group of men who claimed to be local residents at the Singhu border.

The Delhi Traffic Police said movement on the National Highway 24 (Delhi-Meerut Expressway) has been stopped.

Apart from the three borders of Delhi, internet services will remain suspended in their adjoining areas too effective from 11 pm of January 29 to 11 pm of January 31, a Union Home Ministry official said.

The decision has been taken to “maintain public safety and averting public emergency” under Temporary Suspension of Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules 2017, the official said.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, demanding a rollback of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporations.

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring better opportunities to farmers and introduce new technologies in agriculture.

Numbers dwindle in agitation venues in Punjab

Till now, the agitation was seen as mainly being led by Punjab-based farmer unions. To shore up dwindling numbers at protest sites, several panchayats in Punjab have started passing resolutions asking people to send one person from every village home to the dharnas at Delhi borders.

“We are listening to news reports of protests at the Singhu border but that is not deterring us at all,” said Gurdeep Singh from Rampura Phul area of Bathinda.

Pakistan-sponsored terrorists may infiltrate farmer groups: Punjab CM

There has been an increase in weapons coming from Pakistan since October when the farmers began their agitation against the three farm laws, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has said that he has been cautioning the union government against the designs of the western neighbour of causing some disturbance in the border state.

In an interview with news agency ANI, the Chief Minister said Pakistan has been sending weapons through drones and is also trying to cause infiltration.

He said there has been a spurt in “drone delivery” since the farmers’ agitation started and “weapons, money, and heroine” have been coming in.

The chief minister said Pakistan has sleeper cells which they can activate and “a disturbed Punjab suits Pakistan’s policy”.

Capt Singh said that Pakistan and China were going to collude and 20% of Indian Army soldiers belong to the area where there has been concern among farmers about farm laws and the morale of troops can’t be allowed to go down. “I have a hostile country on my western border. On the north of us, we have China. These two countries are going to collude. About 20% of the Indian Army belongs to this area and we can’t allow their morale to go down. I think we should be very careful in our choice of putting out news which should not create a situation where the morale of our troops goes down.”

Asked if he blames Pakistan for the violence that took place on 26 January in Delhi during the tractor march by farmers against the three farm laws, the chief minister said it was for the investigation agencies to find out.

“I don’t blame anyone. It is for the investigation agencies to find out. What I’m mentioning is when this movement started, why has there been a spurt in the drone delivery? Why weapons, money, and heroine is coming in? That coincided with the agitation and that has got me wondering,” he said.

Capt Singh said he had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in November after the farmers’ agitation moved to Delhi borders to convey his concerns about Pakistan’s attempts to cause some disturbance. “I went to see the home minister when everyone started making big news about farmers’ struggle to discuss the issue that has taken place. Since the farmers’ struggle started in October, the number of weaponry that is coming to Punjab (from Pakistan) has increased. It is drones that are bringing it in. That was what was concerning me because those drones that bring weapons are meant for something. They are not sent as a present here. We may capture 30 drones, but there are 20-30 that may get past us, to their objectives,” the chief minister added.

Haryana rising against protesting farmers

Haryana’s protesting farmers are still smarting from their clash with the locals yesterday, as the identities of those questioned by some journalists yesterday are surfacing, making it clear they are citizens with bona fides.

Police sources said they had to allow the protesters as they were residents of the area and free to move around. They said in the past too, they had been moving freely in the area and could not have been stopped. They said that when this group went to meet the leaders of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee at the Alipur traffic signal, they were rebuffed. The farmers disturbed the police barricades following which the stone-pelting started.

One of the protesters, Raj Sharma, said: “These people do not respect our national flag, so why should we tolerate them?” Another protester, Sukhvir, who claimed to be a resident of Chandpur village, said “40 villages are angry with the Singhu protesters. These people are all traitors and Khalistanis. When we went to speak to them, they started to throw stones at us. We are not related to any political party and just want the road to be reopened.”

Another protester, Manish Kumar, who was holding a placard which asked the farmers to call off their protest, said he ran a mobile store in Alipur village and had turned up for the protest because “these farmers have caused employment loss to many of us and have attacked our police brothers. We wanted to speak to them but they threw stones at us.”

However, Harwinder Singh from the farmers’ camp, who belongs to Taran Taran, and was injured in the attack, alleged that the men were not locals. “The locals are supporting us by providing us amenities and are with us in our struggle. We also feed them at our langars. They would never do this to us,” he said.

“Forty-four people, including Ranjeet Singh, a resident of Nawanshahr who assaulted Paliwal with a sword have been arrested. Three other officials who were trying to control the mob were also injured,” said Sanjay Singh, special commissioner of police, Western Zone. “To contain them, we fired around 15 tear gas shells. The sword was seized too.”

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