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'Nobody Should be Forced': Farmers Gear Up for Bharat Bandh Today as Shutdown Call Elicits Wide Support

A farmer stands in front of police barricades during a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi. (REUTERS)

A farmer stands in front of police barricades during a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi. (REUTERS)

Farmer leaders said that their strike will remain peaceful and that no shops and establishments will be forcibly closed on account of the Bandh.

Farmers’ outfits will observe a Bharat Bandh (nationwide shutdown) on Tuesday to protest against the controversial new agriculture laws is expected to have an impact in several states as several trade and transport unions extended support and almost all opposition parties too backed their demands.

Farmer leaders said that their strike will remain peaceful and that no shops and establishments will be forcibly closed on account of the Bandh. “There will be complete ‘Bharat bandh’ till 3 pm Tuesday, but emergency services will be allowed,” farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal told reporters.

The farmer leaders had earlier announced their intention to block all roads leading to Delhi, which has emerged as the epicentre of the protests against the farm laws, and occupy all toll plazas, but on Monday said they do not want to inconvenience the common people and have, hence, kept the timing of the chakka jam (blockade) from 11am to 3 pm.

On the eve of the nationwide strike, the Centre asked all states and Union Territories to tighten security and that peace and tranquillity must be maintained during the strike.

A home ministry official told PTI that states have been directed to take precautionary measures so that no untoward incident takes place anywhere in the country. In its advisory, the Union Home Ministry also said that the respective governments must ensure that the Covid-19 guidelines issued with regard to health and physical distancing are strictly followed.

Police have increased deployment at various Delhi border points. The Delhi Traffic Police on Monday tweeted about the closure of the Singhu, Auchandi, Piao Maniyari and Mangesh borders.

The farmers call for the strike has garnered widespread support as trade unions, worker unions, some taxi unions and almost all opposition parties have extended support. The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Trinamool Congress, DMK and its allies, TRS, RJD, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party and the Left are among the political parties that are backing the strike.

Appealing to everyone to join the "symbolic" bandh, farmer leaders said they will block key roads during their 'chakka jam' as part of their stir, which has drawn people from northern states especially Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi since the last 12 days.

"Our bandh is different from that of political parties. It is a four-hour symbolic bandh for an ideological cause. We want that there should be no problem to the common people. We appeal to them not to travel during this period," farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said.

"We also urge shopkeepers to shut their outlets during this period," he said. Bhartiya Kisan Ekta Sangathan president Jagjit Singh Dallewala asked farmers to maintain peace and not to try enforce the shutdown.

The leader also claimed the bandh will be effective across the country. "The Modi government will have to accept our demands. We want nothing less than a withdrawal of the new farm laws," farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said.

The Centre and the farmer unions will hold the sixth round of talks a day after the bandh as previous discussions failed to end the deadlock. Targeted by opposition parties for the deadlock, the BJP hit back and accused them of "shameful double standards", claiming many of them had endorsed these reforms when in power or had supported them in Parliament.

The agitating farmers have drawn support from various quarters including artists, sportspersons and workers' groups. Tuesday's strike could impact the transport of goods as the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), the apex body of transporters representing about 95 lakh truckers and other entities, said it will suspend operations in the entire country to support the bandh.

The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Trinamool Congress, DMK and its allies, TRS, RJD, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party and the Left are among the political parties that are backing the strike.

The All India Railwaymen's Federation too extended support to the farmers and said its affiliates will organise dharna during lunch hour. The railway union, which has around nine lakh members, is the latest to show solidarity with the agitating farmers.

The Railways, anticipating rail blockades in 16 states, has issued directives for maintaining law and order in trains and station premises, cautioning zonal railways against “pro-left wing extremists” participating in Tuesday's 'Bharat Bandh'.

Farmers have also found support from transport unions and the joint forum of trade unions like the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

Traders' body CAIT and the All India Transporters Welfare Association, however, said markets across the country including in Delhi will remain open and transport services will also remain operative. Bank unions also said they will not participate in the Bharat Bandh on Tuesday, even as they expressed solidarity with farmers protesting against the new farm laws.

The Railways, anticipating rail blockades in 16 states, has issued directives for maintaining law and order in trains and station premises.

While the Congress has said it will hold protests that day at all district and state headquarters, the ruling TMC on West Bengal has announced sit-ins in various areas for three days. The Aam Aadmi Party said it will hold a peaceful demonstration in the national capital.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi against the new farm laws for the last 12 days.

The three farm laws enacted in September have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country. However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The Centre has repeatedly asserted that these mechanisms will remain.

Meanwhile, police have increased deployment at various Delhi border points. The Delhi Traffic Police on Monday tweeted about the closure of the Singhu, Auchandi, Piao Maniyari and Mangesh borders. The Tikri and Jharoda borders are also closed, it said and advised alternative routes for travelling to Haryana and UP.

The National Highway-44 (NH-44) has also been closed on both sides. The Gazipur border on NH-24 is also closed for traffic from Gaziabad to Delhi.