The 10-hour countrywide Bharat Bandh brought life to stand still in Punjab and Haryana on Monday, with both the states witnessing sights of deserted roads as institutions such as schools, colleges, government and private offices remained closed. The Bandh showcased the degree of support for farmers’ organisations who are protesting against three central farm laws.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) -a collective of farmers' organisations- had called for the Bandh on September 27, which was to be observed from 6 AM to 4 PM, on completion of 10 months of protest at the gates of the national capital.
In the bordering state of Punjab, the first visuals started coming in as early as six in the morning when the protesters started flocking to toll plazas and other meeting venues.
Surjeet Singh Dher, who accompanied his friends in Anandpur Sahib in Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar, told NewsClick over the phone that the success of the Bandh was ensured last month only when the trade unions, women, youth, students and pensioners had extended their support in the convention held at Singhu Border on August 26-27. “In Punjab, people showed their support by observing it completely. It’s a grand success and its extent could be measured in overwhelming response when people chose to shut all their operations. Our unions in Punjab roadways stopped the bus operations. Similar things happened with other public services- be it banks, municipalities, electricity boards or thermal plants."
Shiv Kumar, a trade unionist who was looking after preparations for the Bandh in Pathankot, told NewsClick that the farmers laid siege to major highways and toll plaza in the district. ”The farmers with the help of other trade unions closed all major five points in the districts. The Pathankot city was completely closed. We closed other highways to Himachal Pradesh too.”
When asked about Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Narendra Tomar’s statement about talks with the government, Kumar said, ”It is for government to invite farmers’ organisations for talks. Mere statements in the press would not work. In meetings, the government officials accepted the flaws in the laws but it would not take them back as it has completely surrendered to the corporate agenda.”
Balbir Singh Rajewal, veteran farmers’ leader of the SKM, said that the Bandh has paved the way for new politics to be emerging out of this movement. Talking to NewsClick, he said, ”Apart from the northeastern states, the Bandh has received a huge response from the people. The Bandh and the movement have given people confidence that an opposition can be built against this government. The invincibility of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that it has manufactured through its campaign 'Modi hai to Mumkin Hai' has been dusted to ground.”
In Haryana, farmers blocked traffic on all major highways and conducted large congregations at toll plazas. In the Sonipat district, farmers blocked the western peripheral highway. The protest witnessed large participation from women who have come to the border to observe the birth anniversary of legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.
Seema Khatri, a local resident, told NewsClick that the farm laws were only one part of the story and the recently enacted land acquisition act in the state ensures complete evacuation of farmers from their lands. “The government is saying that it can acquire any land in 24 hours and farmers cannot take away their essentials from it. Is it justice?”
Khatri added, ”For long it was cooked up that locals do not support the protest. I am a local resident and we have ensured that every road is blocked today. We have supported the movement because it’s a matter of our children. How will they feed their families when both centre and state take away our land?”
Inderjit Singh, Vice President of All India Kisan Sabha Haryana, told NewsClick that the Bandh was successful in all four belts of the state. Singh said, ”I think the single biggest message that government can derive from today’s Bandh is that it should not underestimate the strength of the farmers. The Bandh was observed in Southern states and as well as in Gujarat which BJP considers its bastion. The land is shifting beneath its feet.”
In its statement, SKM said that nearly all opposition political parties had extended unconditional support to the Bandh and were in fact keen on not being left out. “Trade unions were firmly with the farmers, showcasing the unity of farmers and workers once again. Various trader, merchant and transporter associations, student and youth organisations, women's organisations, taxi and auto unions, teachers' and lawyers' unions, journalists' unions, writers, artists and other progressive groups were also firmly with the farmers of the country in this Bandh,” SKM added.
The morcha highlighted that the overall mood across the country is anger and frustration with BJP-RSS policies that the Modi Government is enforcing by curbing basic freedoms and democracy and consequently, putting most citizens on the path of struggle for survival. "It is patently clear that the people of India are tired of Modi Government's adamant, unreasonable and egoistic stand on protesting farmers' legitimate demands, and anti-people policies in numerous sectors", said SKM.