As thousands of farmers protested across the country against the Centre’s recently passed agri bills and the new labour codes, farm leaders and trade union leaders on Thursday said that the protests will not end here. Throughout the day people witnessed stark images of protesting farmers being held back by the police with the help of water cannons and teargas. While most of the clashes between the administration and the farmers were reported from areas around Haryana and Punjab, few disputed the claim that the protests were confined to just these two states alone.
“To begin with, let’s understand that this is not just a Punjab and Haryana issue,” said VM Singh, the national convenor of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the umbrella body of over 250 farmer outfits from across the country. “This is an issue that’s affecting farmers throughout the country. MSP is not just an issue for the farmers of these two states. It is the question of the 14 crore strong farming community in this country, whom the top leadership of the country has gone against to please just a handful of corporates,” he added.
Singh said that he had personally discouraged many protestors from going to Delhi, which is already battling a ‘third wave’ of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We understand the concerns of the administration. But why is the Prime Minister not willing to listen to the farmers. These farm bills could be kept in suspension till the time the situation is conducive enough for us to sit across the table and discuss each other’s concerns. Why is this government so adamant?” he asked.
Leaders of the 10 trade unions, which are also supporting the farmers’ ‘Delhi chalo‘ march, said that protests were observed in not just north Indian states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, but also in southern parts of the country including Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha and Telangana and Tamil Nadu as well. “We assembled in hundreds at Jantar Mantar today to in solidarity with the farmer protests and to voice our anger against the recently introduced labour codes. These protests were held at multiple places throughout the country and they will not end here,” said VS Giri, national secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).
In a statement issued on Thursday, the trade unions claimed, “electricity employees, domestic workers, construction workers, beedi workers, hawkers, vendors, agricultural workers, self employed in rural and urban India are holding demonstrations at various places, even defying police restrictions. They are forming human chains instead, like in Mumbai and various other districts in Maharashtra. At many places, the auto and taxi drivers have remained off the roads.”
Many protesters were planning to march all the way down to the capital and camp there for the next few days but with Uttar Pradesh police stopping social activist Medha Patkar, who was leading a contingent of farm leaders and protestors from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, at the Rajasthan border late Wednesday night, Yogendra Yadav who was also accompanied by trade union and farm leaders in Haryana, the protests might not be able to pick up steam in the coming few days.
“Last night police detained many people from Rewari district where I come from. At 4 in the morning Haryana police went around warning people against assembling for today’s protests. We were not coming to the capital with intention of harming anyone or vandalising public property. We wanted our voices to be heard but the administration has, along with passing laws against us, also throttled our democratic right to protest,” said Satyawan, the president of a Haryana-based farmers’ body, All India Kisan Khet Mazduur Sangathan.
Meanwhile, many political leaders engaged in a war of words on social media over the protests march. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal slammed the Haryana government for trying to thwart farmers’ ‘Delhi Chalo’ march, terming the attempt as Punjab’s 26/11. “Today is Punjab’s 26/11. We are witnessing the end of the right to democratic protest. @Akali_Dal condemns the Haryana govt & Centre for choosing to repress the peaceful farmer movement,” said Badal in a tweet.
A bitter exchange of words also ensued between the Chief Ministers of Haryana and Punjab, with Manohar Lal Khattar on Twitter accusing his counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh of “inciting innocent farmers.” Expressing shock over Khattar’s comments, Singh said that it was the Haryana CM should have talked to the farmers before their protest. “It’s the farmers who’ve to be convinced on MSP, not me. You should’ve tried to talk to them before their Dilli Chalo. And if you think I’m inciting farmers then why are Haryana farmers also marching to Delhi?,” he said.