In a response that smells of both panic and hubris, Haryana’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government deployed thousands of police, Rapid Action Force (RAF) and para-military personnel along all roads entering the state from Punjab, and also roads going to Delhi from Haryana. This was the heavy-handed response – presumably at the instance of the Modi government – that met an estimated two lakh farmers who wanted to reach Delhi to protest against the three agriculture related laws that were rammed through the Parliament recently.
In the rest of the country, many states witnessed rural road blockades and protests as the two-day farmers’ protest begun across the country, coinciding with the one-day general strike call given by ten central trade unions and other independent federations.
The BJP-led governments may have prevented farmers from reaching Delhi in large numbers but this “declaration of war” on them, as described by Hannan Mollah, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) leader, has not ended the agitation. Thousands of farmers were camped on different highways leading to Delhi in both Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, even as lakhs of farmers joined protests in their states. It’s going to be a long battle, from the looks of it.
Farmers Confront Heavy Security Cordon
The elaborate security bandobast soon crumbled all along the Punjab-Haryana border, and even within the BJP-ruled state.
In the morning, a huge contingent of farmers, in trucks and tractor-trolleys loaded with people and food, tarpaulins, stoves, first broke multi-layered barriers at Ambala. They pushed back the police force and jubilantly proceeded down the national highway towards Karnal, some 90 kilometres away. They swept through a flagging police presence at Kurukshetra and then, they were again confronted with an even more elaborate arrangement of security forces at Karnal. At the time of publishing this report, the stand-off between the farmers and security forces was continuing at Karnal. All this was done by the Haryana contingent of farmers moving within their own state. The Haryana government, egged on by the Centre, had declared war on its own farmers to protect the Delhi bigwigs.
Meanwhile, the situation at the Punjab border turned ugly and furious within hours as huge contingents of Punjab’s farmers started moving down the highways towards Delhi. They had to pass through Haryana – there was no other way — to reach their country’s capital and give a message to their elected prime minister.
Then something resembling a guerrilla warfare erupted at Shambhu border (near Ambala) as the security forces turned hostile in desperation. Perhaps they had heard of the events down the road and the security forces’ failure to deter the earlier contingent. Or perhaps, they felt freer because these were farmers from Punjab. Whatever the case, with drone cameras buzzing and cranes cranking up and down, the security forces warned them on loud speakers and then let loose their water cannons. Seeing that the protesters were unfazed, heave teargassing was also started.
The protesters were by then furious at the obstructions, and they were in larger numbers than the security forces. So, they rammed through the metal barricades, threw them in the river Ghaggar and braved the water cannons. The young were at the forefront, telling their elderly relatives to remain in the trucks and tractor trolleys. On a narrow bridge full of protesters and buses, the police blithely continued throwing tear gas canisters while being unmindful of the danger of a possible stampede.
Various farmers’ organisations and political parties have condemned the BJP-led state government in Haryana for its ham-handed approach in stopping farmers from reaching Delhi.
UP & Delhi Police Block Entry Points, MP Cops Arrest Activists
Meanwhile, at the UP-Delhi border, there was police and other security deployment on both sides of the borders at all the three major entry points—NOIDA, NH 24 and GT Road. Thousands of farmers gathered on the UP side of the barricades and ultimately they decided to squat on the roads. Delhi Police are controlled by the Union Home Ministry. However, matters had not erupted into a confrontation till last reports came in.
The Gurgaon border with Delhi and the Singhu border in the North also had very strong police deployment but they did not face much pressure – the protesters there were still being held back further up the highways.
The extent of panic in the corridors of power can be gauged from the fact that Delhi Metro was directed to suspend its services beyond Delhi borders out of fear that farmers will use metro trains to reach the heart of the national capital. There were reports that police were questioning and picking up anybody with a rustic look at railway stations and inter-state bus stations.
In Madhya Pradesh, several farmer activists and those expressing solidarity were arrested by the local police to prevent them from going to Delhi.
Protests to Continue on Nov 27
While many states witnessed rural road blockades and protests on Thursday as the two-day farmers’ protest coincided with the one-day general strike by ten central trade unions and other independent federations, it is expected that the mobilisation will further intensify on November 27.
Farmers organisations are claiming that the government’s repressive actions on the first day have fired up the discontent among farmers across the country and it will be shown on the streets tomorrow.