New Delhi/Gautam Buddh Nagar: After it was lifted last week, farmers now continue to partially block the Delhi-Noida link road at the Chilla border on Thursday, staging a blockade for a second time.
The farmers, led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu), had blocked the carriageway leading to the national capital here on Wednesday. The blockade was lifted last week after the group’s delegation met with government interlocutors. BKU (Bhanu) is the same union – the only one among those protesting – that had approached the Supreme Court with a petition against the Farm Laws last week.
The organisation’s earlier temptation to go solo and negotiate with the government, bypassing the umbrella farmers’ body, or approaching the apex court, has fuelled doubts over their intentions. The BKU faction is active in districts of western Uttar Pradesh.
However, the union leaders spearheading the blockade at Chilla border maintain that they stand together with the larger farmers’ movement which has pressed on for the withdrawal of the three contentious laws.
The farmers, led by BKU-Bhanu, told NewsClick on Thursday that their “peaceful rally” to the national capital, which was planned to conclude in a sit-in protest either at Jantar Mantar or Ramlila Maidan, was barricaded by the Delhi Police on December 1. Ever since then, the farmers, who primarily hail from the districts of Agra, Mathura, Firozabad and Etah in Uttar Pradesh, have been “forced” to brave the cold days and nights here.
Yogesh Pratap Singh, the Uttar Pradesh state president of the Bhanu faction, told NewsClick that his union had decided to march to the national capital on December 1 “in solidarity” with the farmers’ outfits from Punjab and Haryana, “who were welcomed in Delhi by barricades, tear gas, and water cannons.”
Farmers, under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of at least 32 Punjab unions, a prominent Haryana union and the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), rallied to Delhi, only to be stopped at the outskirts of the city by the police, leading to a blockade of key entry-exit points.
“But, on December 12, a five-member delegation of our union including him (Bhanu Pratap Singh) was called for a meeting with the Centre,” Yogesh Pratap Singh, the son of Bhanu Pratap, said. According to reports, the meeting was attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh and agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
“We were assured that our demands will be considered in the next 24 hours in that meeting,” Yogesh Pratap Singh said, but rued: “it was a false assurance.” Unlike the Kisan Morcha, the Bhanu faction was also demanding a “Kisan Aayog”, which intends to have farmers as members who decide minimum support prices (MSP) for the produce themselves. The demand was in addition to the one to repeal the three laws.
However, at midnight on the same day, reports quoted the Delhi Police claiming that the blockade at the Noida-Delhi link road via Chilla was lifted, inviting flak from other unions.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni of BKU (Haryana) reportedly called the entire episode a “conspiracy to weaken” the farmers’ movement. “Bhanu Pratap has never been a member of our committee and he never joined the Samyukt Kisan Morcha,” The Telegraph quoted him saying.
The unions’ own members were upset by the move. According to The Times of India, by Monday, more than 400 supporters – with more than 35 of them office bearers – of the Bhanu faction had left the union by Monday. In apparent disagreement with the move, Yogesh Pratap Singh himself sat on an indefinite hunger strike from Sunday at the same spot but without blocking the road.
Speaking with NewsClick, Chaduni maintained that the intentions of the Bhanu faction were “doubtful”. “First they went to Supreme Court without consulting us; then they met with the Centre alone and subsequently lifted the blockade. In both instances, it is clear that the government benefited,” he said over the phone, referring to approaching the apex court as eventually “stalling” the matter for the future.
“Think about it like this. Now, by blocking the Delhi-Noida link road, the Bhanu faction can certainly claim to be part of the farmers’ agitation. But, by also already holding a separate talk with the government, the union cannot be trusted with not lifting the blockade again in the future, thereby casting questions on the legitimacy of the protests and the unity among the unions as a result,” Chaduni observed. “This is also divide and rule, but in a different way, right?”
I could be wrong, but we will surely have to be careful with them in the future, he added.
Notably, when NewsClick visited the protest site – which was blocked for the second time on Wednesday – on Thursday, Bhanu Pratap Singh was absent from the venue. With only one tent in place to accommodate not more than 50 people at a time, there were no public meetings being held – a rare sight if the other protesting venues are anything to go by. There were barricades installed on the road behind the tent, accompanied by a water cannon.
Reports have suggested that the Centre holds ‘informal talks’ with the leaders of several farm unions, even as the Kisan Morcha rejected the Centre’s written proposal on December 9 which had nothing more than amendments to the contentious laws. No official talks have taken place since then.
On Wednesday, Darshan Pal working group member of the AIKSCC and president of the Krantikari Kisan Union, Punjab, also wrote to the Centre reiterating the position of the farm unions and demanded that it stops holding parallel discussions with other farmer organisations.
Asked about it all, Yogesh Pratap Singh however, downplayed the accusations and stressed that the union is standing with the Kisan Morcha and that the union’s national president “will reach the Chilla border in two to three days. We are always standing with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha. Whatever decision they take, we will follow,” he said.
On Thursday, while the apex court was hearing the matter – in addition to other PILs pertaining to the Farm Laws and the subsequent highway blockades – the Bhanu faction reportedly appeared before it. This was so even as majority of the protesting farm unions were wary of the Supreme Court’s intervention in the matter, at least now, before the farm laws have been repealed