New Delhi: The “unprecedented” 10-hour Bharat Bandh on Monday was “successful” as “farmers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari hit the streets” against the three controversial farm laws. Almost the entire poll-bound Uttar Pradesh (UP) was affected with protesters in the western region blocking highways and arterial roads and squatting on tracks since morning.
“The Bharat Bandh was successful with the full support of farmers. We did not block everything as our intention was not to cause inconvenience to the people,” Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) national media-in-charge leader Dharmendra Malik told Newsclick.
The nationwide lockdown, which ended at 4 pm, was organised to mark the first anniversary of the assent given to the three farm laws by President Ram Nath Kovind. The protesters claimed that the response to the strike had “nailed the lie of the government’s propaganda and showed how the public supported the historic struggle of the farmers”.
Visuals of deserted roads and markets kept pouring in throughout the day. The call for the lockdown received extensive support in UP, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Several trains were cancelled, highways and key roads blocked and many thousand of people stranded for hours. At least, 25 trains were cancelled.
“The unprecedented lockdown was a slap on the faces of those who dubbed the massive movement as a protest by only three states. Small and big farmers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari protested the three laws. If the government still does not understand our problems, the farmers cannot do anything more,” Malik added.
On the Union agriculture ministry’s reiteration that the farmers should hold talks instead of going ahead with their strike, Malik said, “We were and are ready for talks but the government has not invited us for any dialogue.”
Asked about the hike in the sugarcane procurement price by the UP government ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections, Malik said that the Yogi Adityanath government is third in terms of hike in the price. “The highest hike in the price (Rs 90 per quintal) was during the Mayawati government, then the Akhilesh Yadav government (Rs 65 per quintal) and the least under the incumbent government,” said Malik, adding, “It is actually an increase of Rs 5/100 kg every year.”
Terming the revision “unscientific”, Malik sought to know the formula used to hike the price. “The electricity tariff was hiked thrice (from Rs 70 to Rs 185 per horsepower) in the last five years. The price of diesel rose by Rs 25-Rs 30 per litre. Fertiliser and pesticide prices too doubled in this period. Inflation is somewhere 6.5-7%. If all these components are considered, it accounts for around 35%, but the hike is just 2%,” he explained.
Despite the Uttar Pradesh sugarcane purchase advisory committee, constituted for fixing the state advisory price, estimating the input cost of sugarcane production at Rs 350 per quintal, the purchase price remains, Malik said. “How will this much-hyped hike improve the farmers’ financial condition? The farmers won’t survive if they do not get a profitable purchase price against the input cost. Besides, they are paid one year late.”
Though farmer organisations were joined by trade unions, youth organisations, students and political parties in different parts of the country, peasant organisations, as per the policy of their umbrella body, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) ensured that no representative of any political party shared their stages. No untoward incident was reported from any part of the country with the SKM reiterating that the lockdown was voluntary and that there was no room for any violence.
Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson, BKU, said that though he does not know how the movement will end up, but “the youth, who often avoided discussing farming-related issues, are also joining it”. The protest is aimed at ensuring that “Roti (bread) does not become a market commodity”, he said.