Shahjahanpur/Alwar: They travelled 1,300 km in the past five days to reach Delhi on Friday. Yes, that’s the distance covered by the 60-odd vehicle convoy carrying around 500 cultivators from Maharashtra’s Nashik. Resolve writ large on their faces, they have come to the capital to make a point to the Narendra Modi government -- that the ongoing farmers’ agitation is not Punjab and Haryana-specific.
On Friday, farmers from Maharashtra joined their comrades from Rajasthan and Gujarat in protesting against the “corporate-oriented” farm laws, after their vehicle caravan was stopped at the interstate border point connecting Rajasthan with Haryana near Shahjahanpur village.
A similar march to the national capital was stopped by the Haryana Police almost a fortnight ago, leading to a blockade of one carriageway of the expressway connecting Delhi to Jaipur. On Friday, the swelling number of protesters at the same spot made sure that even the other road going toward Rajasthan’s capital was blocked.
When asked, the Maharashtra farmers, who have been agitating for long on their demands, said they had come to Delhi to make a point.
Addressing the charged up crowd at the protest site, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) president Ashok Dhawale said: “The Centre is hell bent on peddling a narrative that the protests against its three farm laws are only restricted to a couple of states. They must come here and see… farmers hailing from all corners of the nation have become part of this historic movement.”
Dhawale, who led the farmers’ convoy from Nashik, also “warned” the Centre not to “linger on any further” on accepting the demands made by farmers.
“The five borders are continuing to see large participation of the farmers from across the country. You will not be able to tire us down,” he added.
In the agitation that is inching towards completing a month now, farmers in thousands are staying put at entry-exits points of Delhi - Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Chilla.
The farmers’ caravan reached here after passing through three states -- Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan -- where the protesters say they were “whole-heartedly welcomed”, further challenging the Centre’s narrative.
“Throughout our journey, we were served with food at multiple locations, quilts and even free diesel for our vehicles,” Janardan Kale, 41, from Nanded told NewsClick.
“There were many public meetings on the way that were held in the past few days. I met people from different states. One thing I can say is that anger is resonating everywhere… But the media won’t tell this,” he said.
Dr. Ajit Navale, state secretary, AIKS-Maharashtra, said donations were helping them prepare for the stay of the farmers here. “We are also carried medicines with us,” he added.
As the farmers from Nashik covered the last few metres on foot, they were stopped by the Haryana Police. Some said that memories of the 2018 call for the Kisan Long March to Mumbai came back. “We were determined then, we won’t back down even now,” Bhikaji Bhangre, 55, from Nashik told Newsclick.
Meera Bai Pawar, 55, from Nashik district, however, said that despite the assurances given in 2018, her problems remain as such. “I am still being denied ownership of the five acres on which I grow onion, bajra and wheat. The income from farming is still very low,” she said, adding that as a result, her 20-year-old son is forced to do daily wage work to eke out a living.
“Now that we have come here, we won’t go back unless our issues are resolved,” she said.
Meanwhile, security was beefed up by the Haryana Police who were anticipating that the farmers will push their way into the national capital. Traffic movement slowed down, if not stopped, throughout the day across the highway due to police barricading at multiple strategic points. By evening, a diversion was created from nearby Bawal town in Haryana to avoid the traffic jam.
More companies of RAF, CISF, CRPF were deployed at the protest site along with shipping containers, kerb stones, riot control vehicle and water cannons, to stop the marching farmers.
Some youth tried to break the barricades in the afternoon but were pacified by the farm leaders present there who asked them to wait for the final decision -- to go ahead or stay - that will be taken by the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body that is spearheading the agitation.