New Delhi: The unprecedented success of the countrywide Bharat Bandh call by agitating famers mounted the much-needed pressure on the Narendra Modi government, which was forced to call the farmers for talks on Tuesday evening itself, a day before the next round of talks are scheduled to be held.
The Centre has already held five rounds of talks with the agitating farmers’ delegation but has failed to achieve any meaningful breakthrough over the contentious farm laws, which the farmers want repealed.
The widespread success of the Bharat Bandh also busted the myth propagated by the ruling Bharatya Janata Party and its supporters that the farmers' protests are mainly localised to Punjab and Haryana, and that most farmers in the country are in favour of these laws.
On Tuesday, December 8, major cities across the nation largely wore a deserted look as shops and market complexes remained shut, while rail and public transport services were disrupted. With vehicles off the road, protesters took to the streets and blocked national and state highways, extending support to the Bharat Bandh call by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha – an umbrella body of over 500 farmers’ collectives.
Slogans rented the air against the Modi-led Central government for not paying heed to the voices of multiple farmers’ groups demanding a ‘yes’ or ‘No’ on the repeal of the three farm legislations along with an amendment to the electricity law. The agitating farmers, on Tuesday, were joined by mass organisations, trade bodies, sectoral federations, and around 24 political parties.
More than 50 lakh people are estimated to have participated in the strike action at around 20,000 protest sites, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a constituent of the Kisan Morcha, said its press statement on Tuesday evening, adding that the “Bandh” was “widely observed” in as many as 22 states.
This was even so as the leaders of the protesting farmers’ organisations made it clear a day earlier that participation in their ‘strike’ action will be voluntary and that no one will be forced to comply.
Such was the overwhelming response to the farmers’ call, that a Bharatiya Kisan Union leader informed reporters in the day that he, along with 13 representatives of the farmers’ groups, had been invited by Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday evening.
Rakesh Tikait, BKU (Tikait) leader in Uttar Pradesh, said there is going to be a meeting at 7 p.m with Shah. Confirming the same, he told Newsclick that, “It is ‘do or die’ situation for farmers in the country We will fight till our last breath against the agri laws and police brutality on farmers.”
Incidentally, the Centre was scheduled to meet the farm leaders and present a ‘concrete proposal’ in another round of talks on Wednesday.
‘Country Supported Farmers, Bandh Call Was Grand Success’
Day-to-day routine was put on a hold in Maharashtra, from where early reports in the morning indicated that the strike was observed across the state. Farmers’ organisations organised ‘Chakka Jam’ at districts including Ahmednagar, Nandurbar, Sangli, Amravati, Beed and Aurangabad. The Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) – run mandis were shut in many parts of the state, including at Navi Mumbai which boasts of accommodating Asia’s largest anaj mandi, affecting the inflow of the daily stocks of vegetables and flowers.
Shashikant Shinde, leader of the Mathadi Coolie Union there, told Newsclick that the number of vehicles (jeeps) reaching the mandi in the morning were as low as 140 today, as opposed to around 400 to 500 on any usual operating day. Similar observations emerged from the flower mandi in Pune as well, where Rahul Jagtap, one of mandi agents, pegged the number of tempos reaching the market at 40, against the usual 100.
In a rare show of support to cultivators, farmers of a village in Jalna district distributed the milk for free to residents, while refusing to sell it or supply it to the dairies, news agency PTI reported. In Mumbai, the association of the much-loved dabbawalas also extended solidarity.
Meanwhile, some 600 vehicles coming in from Maharashtra to join the ongoing camping of farmers in the national capital were stopped at the Madhya Pradesh borders, the state where Section 144 was imposed in various districts, and security was beefed up in light of the farmers’ call.
As a result, nearly 60% of the mandis, including in Mandsaur, Shahdol and Jabalpur remained closed, B B Faujdar, convenor, Samyukt Sangarsh Morcha Madhya Pradesh Mandi Board, said.
Indore, the economic capital of MP, also felt the impact as its Shivani mandi, and markets remained closed.
ADGP Upendra Jain said that 20 people have been booked in Gwalior, while a scuffle between the protestors and shopkeepers were reported in Guna, Ujjain, Bhind and Vidisha. In addition to this, roads were blocked in Guna, Rewa, Anuppur and Shahdol by the protesters.
‘PM Modi Is Trying To Cheat Farmers’
In Telangana, barring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), all political parties, trade unions, civil organisations, joined farmers in blocking the vehicle movement at various highway locations across the state. Joint rallies saw participation in thousands in Mahboobnagar, Warangal, Khammam, and Nalgonda, with hal- naked protests being held at Bhupalpally district by the members of Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M).
State Panchayati Raj Minister Errabelli Dayakar Rao said during a road blockade in Warangal town: “PM Modi is trying to cheat farmers through the new farm laws which are made only for the benefit of the corporates.”
The State Road Transport Corporations in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh came to a halt as employees boycotted duty in support of the farming community, affecting 90% of overall transportation in the state.
In Chennai, AIKSCC and its constituents held a massive picketing protest in front of the Shastri Bhavan, with farmers from rain-affected areas, including Thanjavore, Tiruvar, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Mayiladuthurai participating in demonstrations in their respective districts.
The state also saw bank employees extending their support to the strike action by wearing badges, while lunch hour demonstrations were staged by the employees of the state-owned telecom company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).
K Balakrishnan, state secretary, CPI(M) condemned the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for boycotting the farmers’ call, while hitting out at the state Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami for reiterating support to the controversial agriculture reforms.
“The bandh has earned overwhelming support from all sections of the society. A large number of shops remained closed across the state… this is a warning to the BJP government which is pursuing pro-corporate policies. The AIADMK government is only following BJP’s footsteps…” he said.
Rail Links Blocked; Picketing At Several Locations
In West Bengal, the ‘bandh’ call got widespread response. National highways were blocked in Krishnanagar, Burdwan, Murshidabad, Domjur of Howrah, Kakinada of North 24 Parganas, among others by protesters who included farmers, students, and sections of workers. Over 250 pickets were organised in different parts of the state, while supporters of Left and Congress were seen as blockading rail links in North 24 Parganas and South Paraganas district.
While markets in the state functioned only at 10 -20% of their capacity, many streets saw youth activists engaging in sports, such as badminton and soccer.
The North Eastern states weren’t also left untouched by the strike action with the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha announcing closure of all government offices in the state, while a joint body of trade union and associations in Meghalaya extending its “moral support” to the call.
In Assam, state capital Guwahati came to a standstill with most shops closed and sparse transportation. The protests saw participation from several organisations including Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Asom Jatiyo Parishad (AJP), Raijor Dol, Left parties and the Congress.
Picketing and protest marches were witnessed in Barpeta, Goalpora, Kamrup of lower Assam region; Nagaon, Biswanath, Morigaon of middle Assam; and Golaghat, Jorhat, Dhemaji of the upper Assam, among others. In Dergaon of Golaghat district an Adivasi union, KMSS, and Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) – all joined hands in blocking the National Highway (NH) – 37.
Ready To Join Farmers in Delhi, Say Protesters
Normal life was badly affected in Bihar as the strike call found support from the opposition Mahagathbandhan, a coming together of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties, hitting train and road services. The farmers’ call was also supported by Rashtriya Loktantrik Samta party and Jan Adhikar Party, whose members staged separate protests.
According to the local police, traffic was stopped at national and state highways at Begusarai, Vaishali, Jehanabad, Gaya, Patna, Bhagalpur, Madhubani, Bhojpur, Siwan, Samastipur, Khagaria, Purnia, among others.
Several dozen long-distance and passenger trains at Patna, Jehanabad, Hajipur, and Darbhanga districts also came to a halt due to the shutdown. “Train services have been badly disrupted due to the shutdown since early Tuesday morning…” an East Central Railway official from Hajipur, the zonal headquarters, said.
In Jammu, protests in support of the agitating farmers were staged and gained momentum as soon as Bhim Army – Jammu & Kashmir unit, joined in the protests against the Modi government.
Protests backed by Jammu and Kashmir Kisan Tehreek and United Sikh Forum were held in Kashmir’s Srinagar joined by other organisations protesting in the city’s Press Enclave. During the protest, demands to implement Swaminathan Commission report were raised.
Fruit mandis across the Kashmir Valley also observed no operations on Tuesday. “We are observing the bandh to express our support to the farmer’s agitation and we demand the revocation of these laws which are not in the interest of the farmers,” Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealer’s Union (KVFGU), said.
Protests Remained Peaceful
Likewise, other parts of the country including Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry, Kerala and Karnataka also reverberated with similar agitations. The protests in all these areas largely remained peaceful, even as reports from various locations of several leaders being detained by the local police fluttered the social media throughout the day.
In Punjab and Haryana, the states that have remained at the forefront of the farmers’ agitation over last few months, the agitation on Tuesday made a visible impact. Commercial establishments and fuel pumps reportedly remained shut, with protests in various locations led by Opposition parties. Demonstrations were also staged by Haryana Roadways workers in support of the farmers.
The call, however, invoked a mixed response in Uttar Pradesh, where amid reports of minor incidents of blockade of trains and road traffic in few districts, the situation appeared normal.
Rail movement was blocked in Prayagraj while several places of western UP particularly in Meerut, Saharanpur, Noida, Ghaziabad and Agra while highways traffic were disrupted. Tension escalated in Agra near Lucknow Expressway after a minor scuffle took place between BKU leaders and police during Bharat Bandh.
UP police has taken action against more than two dozen farmers leaders and political parties leaders with detaining them inside their house in Lucknow, Varanasi, Meerut, Agra, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Varanasi and other places.
In the national capital, the border areas – Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur – saw heavy police deployment, along with the key areas such as Jantar Mantar, Vijay Chowk, India Gate, among others, against an anticipation of a mass congregation of the protesters.
Cab aggregators remained off the road, with as many as 27 transport unions in the capital extending their solidarity to the farmers’ call. Kamaljeet Gill, president, Sarvodya Driver Association, said that almost 4 lakh drivers associated with Ola and Uber didn’t ply their vehicles on road on Tuesday. The Azadpur mandi in the city remained closed on the occasion.
Earlier, in the day, it was alleged that Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was house arrested in his residence, a day later he visited Singhu border protest site. Taking to Twitter, the Delhi police, however, rejected the allegation.
(Reporting by Amey Tirodkar from Maharashtra; Sandip Chakraborty from West Bengal; Neelambaran A from Tamil Nadu; Sandipan Talukdar from Assam; Prudhviraj Rupawat from Telangana; Sagarika Kissu from Jammu; Imran Khan from Bihar; Anees Zargar from Kashmir; Abdul Alim Jafri from Uttar Pradesh and Kashif Kakvi from Madhya Pradesh. Written and additional reporting by Ronak Chhabra.)