New Delhi: A couple of days after chaos reigned in the national capital, the hinterlands of nearby Haryana are feeling the ripples of the storming of the Red Fort by a group of farmers on Republic Day, as pressure mounts over the local organisers to wind up their protest camps by the state police.
Back in December last year, a call by farmers’ unions to free the toll plazas across Haryana to “intensify” the agitation against the controversial farm legislations ensured that multiple booths in the state metamorphosed into dharna sites with average participation of protesters ranging from 100 to 500 at each spot.
Overwhelmed by the huge turnout of farmers to register protests, the toll-free movement of vehicles – initially planned only for three days, beginning from December 25 – was extended up for an indefinite period.
Since then, stages were set up to conduct public meetings and community kitchens aided the farmers to stage 24*7 demonstrations at these places in multiple districts– in a re-run of what was happening at the gates of the national capital, albeit at a much smaller scale.
However, post January 26, when a group of farmers barged into the Red Fort after breaking out from the tractor parade - that was marked with confusion and security lapses – and hoisted the Sikh pennant Nishan Sahib at the 17th century monument, the toll plaza-cum-dharna spots that are far from Delhi have started witnessing heavy police presence.
While protests continued at Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur the next day, though reportedly without the usual exuberance.
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Leaders of the protesting farmers’ unions allege that the coalition government of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state is cashing in on the prevailing tense situation in Delhi, but stressed that the “protests must go on as before.”
Preet Singh, district president of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) – Rohtak, said on Thursday, “The local police has been pressuring us since yesterday to either withdraw the demonstration or at least move our camp to the side walks.” Singh was speaking over the phone from Rohad Toll Plaza near Sampla town, where farmers from the nearby villages are camping since December 25.
According to him, the police told the protesting farmers that the authorities are pressing to begin charging at least the commercial vehicles at toll rates, if not the personal ones. “We have managed to not budge to their requests so far. But there is a huge pressure on us,” Singh rued.
The situation has only gotten worse, Singh added, due to the fact that many farmers present have now left “to take care of daily chores” back at home.
Similarly, a protest camp at Sangwari Chowk near Dharuhera’s Masani village at the Delhi-Jaipur highway was vacated on Wednesday morning (January 27) after police accompanied by local residents allegedly started pressuring the protesting farmers to move away, in view of avoiding any possible “social tension” in the area.
These were those farmers who, on January 1 earlier, chose to breach the police barriers at the Shahjahanpur border, connecting Rajasthan with Haryana, and marched some 30 kms towards the national capital. After facing tear gas shells at the Sangwari Chowk, the marching farmers halted there and since then had turned the site into yet another morcha.
“Since the night of January 26, the police along with some handful of local people started pressuring us to move back to Shahjahanpur border,” said one protester of the group that was camping at Sangwari Chowk, who didn’t wish to be named. This protester alleged that the locals were mostly the men of “RSS-BJP” (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party).
According to him, the local people were angry with the protesting farmers for “replacing the tricolour at Red Fort.” Soon after images were shared by media of farmers entering the Red Fort premises, claims began to be made on the social media that the protesters took down the Indian National Flag and had replaced with a “Khalistan” flag – which have been proved to be not true.
“We told the people that it is not true that the farmers would disrespect the country’s national flag, but they wouldn’t listen,” the protester added.
Sarjeet Mehlawat, 36, another farmer from the same group, told NewsClick that owing to the pressure both from police’s end and the locals, the farmers vacated the spot the next morning itself. “Around 70% came back to Shahjahanpur, while others chose to travel to Tikri or Ghazipur,” he said over phone from the Shahjahanpur border.
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Sonu Jilowa, 28, a volunteer at the Rajasthan-Haryana border confirmed that “most of the farmers” from the Sangwari Chowk have now come back. “Yesterday, the police here also pressured us to allow traffic on one carriageway of the highway but we denied,” Jilowa said.
Jilowa, who is of AIKS, added that the “pressure tactics” were used by Haryana Police even as no untoward incident was witnessed during the farmers’ Republic Day parade on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. “We started the parade as per the schedule and came back to our protest site without causing any harm. It was all peaceful,” he said.
In another related incident, a few local people reportedly clashed with the farmers near Gharaunda village in Karnal, after which the district administration removed the farmers’ dharnas and langar stalls. “After the Delhi incident, some people had given a call not to let farmers hold any other dharna in the district, so we requested the kisan protesters to close the community kitchen and go home. The farmers complied voluntarily. The dharnas and the four langars are off. The Gharaunda clash was minor but duty magistrates are keeping an eye on the law and order situation,” the Times of India quoted Deputy Commissioner of Karnal Nishant Kumar Yadav as saying.
Taking note of the developments, Gurnam Singh Chaduni of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) – Haryana unit on Thursday stressed that the dharnas at the toll plazas and other places in the state “must continue as before.”
“This is all a deep conspiracy that is hatched by the BJP,” Chaduni said in a virtual statement, shared with press persons, adding that those who stormed the Red Fort on Wednesday are “gaddar” and that they are “the men of BJP”.
Saying that the focus should remain on the “issues of the farmers”, he further appealed to the farmers not to use any force.
Also read: Massive ‘Tractor Parade’ on R-Day Marks Historic Protest by Farmers Against Agri Laws