Farmers protest: Despite increasing number of barricades thousands converge at Delhi borders

NEW DELHI: Despite an increasing number of barricades, thousands of farmers have been converging at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border following a tearful Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait’s impassioned appeal to protesters to bolster the stir.

The tide of the over two-month protest against the farm laws, which had lost its sheen after the violence in Delhi during the tractors parade on Republic day, appears to have regained momentum as is evident from the increased number of tents set up at the protest site.

Many protesters waited for hours to talk to Tikait or take a selfie with him as the farmer leader remained busy meeting his supporters and talking to the media.

A Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) member said Tikait has been sleeping only for around three hours a day for the last three days.

“He had complained of blood pressure issues, but is doing fine now,” the member said.

Shiromani Akal Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal visited the Ghazipur border to lend his support to the protesting farmers.

Badal, whose party pulled out of the NDA government over the three farm laws, met Tikait for around 10 minutes.

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Farmers, carrying tricolours and raising slogans, took out marches, while a group of youths gathered at a spot near the Delhi-Meerut expressway and danced to patriotic songs till the sun went down.

The scene was quite different just three days ago.

A day after the Republic Day violence in Delhi, when a section of farmers taking part in the tractor parade broke through barriers, clashed with police and stormed the Red Fort for a few hours, the farmer game it seemed to be over.

Morale plummeted and many farmers returned home.

On Wednesday night, the atmosphere was tense at Ghazipur.

The Ghaziabad administration issued an “ultimatum” to the protesters occupying a stretch of the Delhi-Meerut expressway to vacate as the January 26 clashes painted a not-so-peaceful picture of the peasant community.

As security presence at the site escalated and fears grew that the protesters would be forcibly evicted, an emotional Tikait broke down while talking to reporters.

“The protest won’t be called off. Farmers are being met with injustice,” he said and even threatened to end his life for the cause.

A layer of barbed wire fencing was added to the existing multi-layered barricading at the protest site.

But that couldn’t keep people from reaching the area where farmers have been camping since late November.

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Sarita Rana, a BKU member from Gurgaon, said she walked two kilometres to reach the protest site.

Rana said she and her husband couldn’t sleep a bit the night they watched a video of Tikait crying.

“We have never seen him crying. It moved us,” she said.

“The government has been trying to scuttle the protest by blocking roads and withdrawing facilities such as water and power supply. But this has strengthened our resolve to fight on,” Rana said.

The farmers kept arriving with water-filled cans from their hometown for their beloved leader.

According to a BKU member’s estimate, over 10,000 farmers have gathered at the UP Gate protest site on Sunday.

Tikait said he respects the sentiments of the protesters and the water-filled cans will be emptied in the Ganga.

Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly broadcast, wherein on Sunday he maintained that his government is committed to “modernising” farming and has been taking many steps, many urged him to listen to the ‘Mann ki Baat’ of the farmers.

“If a politician can come to our house asking for our votes, why cannot they come to us here to resolve the issue. If PM Modi wants to talk, he should give us a phone number to call,” said 64-year Satbir Singh from Haryana’s Jind district.

Ravinder Singh, 63, from Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur, said farmers want to return to their fields, “but that will happen only when the three laws are repealed and a legal guarantee ensuring minimum support price is provided.”

Meanwhile, Delhi’s Singhu border witnessed increased hustle-bustle on Sunday as more farmers from Punjab and Haryana poured in to join the protest against the Centre’s new agri laws, even as some complained of poor internet connectivity and difficulties in getting water and food supplies.

The protesters also ramped up vigil at the protest site sprawled on the GT Karnal Road at the Delhi-Haryana border, with more stick-carrying volunteers taking regular rounds, in the backdrop of a violent protest by ‘locals’ on Friday.

Thousands of farmers reached Singhu Border on Saturday evening in hundreds of vehicles including tractor trollies from Punjab and Haryana, said Satnam Singh Sahni, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union, BKU (Doaba).

“Over a thousand farmers from Doaba region in Punjab reached here in 250 vehicles on Saturday night. Also, around 250 trollies from Mohali (Punjab) and 300 trollies from different places of Haryana brought thousands of people here,” Sahni said.

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He claimed thousands of more farmers were on their way to join the protest.

Sahni said problems of poor internet and scarcity of water and supplies including food items was being faced by the farmers for the last few days as the routes leading to the protest site were blocked by the police.

A group of farmers from Sangrur said earlier the locals from nearby areas in Haryana and Delhi provided water and other items but were now unable to do so due to restrictions put in place by the police.

“We are not going to be deterred by these roadblocks erected by the police. We have already stocks for many weeks. There is a little problem of water for bathing and washing purposes but we are fine and arranging other sources to get water,” said Nachhattar Singh.

The farmers said they were facing problems of poor internet connectivity following the violence during the tractor rally on Republic Day .

“The movement has gained worldwide attention but due to absence of internet, we are unable to update people in the country and abroad,” said a young protester Satbir Singh from Ludhiana.

In view of the protest by ‘locals’ on Friday demanding clearing of the highway by the protesting farmers, the security has been increased at the site.

“They were people from the BJP sent by the government to scare us. Now, we have made arrangements to meet with any situation. More volunteers are now patrolling and vigil has been enhanced with more than one person from each tractor trolley keeping watch during the night,” said one functionary of Samyukta Kisan Morcha.

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The protesters under the banner of Kisan Mazdoor Sangthan, Punjab, who have set up a separate stage from the Morcha stage at Singhu, were affected by violence on Friday in which a police officer also sustained injury.

“The locals from Delhi side who were actually agents of the ruling party pelted stones that tore our tents.

They also damaged our washing machines and other items with police failing to control them,” said elderly Dilbagh Singh who suffered injury on his left hand during the protest by ‘locals’.

The police has now closed all the routes leading to problems of water and supplies of firewood and other items for Langar, he said.