In the background, a local folk singer remembered and paid tribute to legendary revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Chandra Shekhar Azad with his songs. He expressed gratitude as a vibrant audience encouraged him with monetary rewards. This was one of the highlights from the morning of the Kisan Mahapanchayat day in Muzaffarnagar on Sunday. Even before the Mahapanchayat was to begin, the venue witnessed scores of people pouring in from neighbouring states and as well as states as distant as Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Some political experts from Uttar Pradesh have already called the congregation ‘the biggest one in the recent history of the region’.
Samyukt Kisan Morcha – under whose banner Sunday’s congregation has been organised – has said that this rally will give a new direction to the nationwide movement against the BJP-led government. The rally is also significant in the context of the upcoming Assembly polls in the two Northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Senior farmer leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said that the rally will see participation of the representatives of 22 states and over 300 organisations – including 100 from Punjab – of famers as well as workers, employees, students, etc.
Conversations with a number of farmers here suggested that the anguish ran deep in the agrarian communities who have been waging a struggle against three central farm laws at the borders of the national capital. Balbeer Singh, who had travelled from Uchana in Haryana’s Jind, told NewsClick that the arbitrary process of procurement remains a challenge for small farmers like him. “The agriculture market officials would reject your produce on the pretext of excessive moisture. The farmers, who would get Rs 1,888 per quintal of rice, are compelled to sell it for Rs 1,600 per quintal. This hardly covers our costs. We are deeply distressed. Our children are languishing at homes because there are no jobs. We came here to join our brothers to show our unity.”
Ram Chander, who stood beside Singh, said: “Modi and Khattar want to replicate what happened in Bihar. They brought the same reforms there and farmers are now migrating to other states for their survival.” Chander was referring to abolition of APMC markets in Bihar in 2006 which paved way for open market procurement of produce. Many farmers in state believe that the new regime brought miseries to them as unregulated traders did not have to conform to minimum support prices announced by the central government.
Some of the farmers NewsClick spoke to had come from Farrukhabad in UP and said that they had spent money from their pockets to reach the congregation. One Rakesh said, “We have spent Rs 600 each on commuting. We have come here not only to protest against the three anti-farmer laws, but also to talk about the many other issues we continue to face.”
Rakesh put the onus on the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh for the chaos caused by the stray cattle. He said, “We have stopped farming of many crops as these crops invite the cattle nuisance.” He further said that while the farmers’ produce is being sold for peanuts, the things they have to buy are being sold at exorbitant prices. “The government has been increasing process of petrol, diesel, seeds and fertilisers, which is in turn increasing our expenditure. On the other hand, the government is refusing to increase the MSP. We do not get even the fixed MSP rate for our produce, forget about a hike.”
Choudhury Devendra Singh Ahlawat, an octogenarian from Rohtak told NewsClick that he had been a part of India’s freedom struggle. “We fought then, and we will fight today as well. Back then, the enemy was out in the open. Today, it is employing deceit and trickery. This government uses farmers only in their speeches. But with these laws, it is actually destroying farmers’ lives and livelihoods.”
Raunak Tomar, who came from Ghatayan village in Muzaffarnagar, said that his village is hosting four langars around the venue to feed the participants in the congregation. When asked if sugarcane-growing farmers of the region would be content with the assurance of increasing FRP of produce announced just before the rally, he said, “The Uttar Pradesh government is trying to make it seem as if it’s a question of sugarcane prices. But it’s simply not that. This display of our anguish is with three central farm laws. They must be repealed. The situation is already dire and nobody came to us to ask how we are feeding our families. We are also seeing what’s happening in our country. Our young boys have been training themselves for recruitment in army, police and the paramilitary forces. They bring out advertisements of recruitment, then silently postpone the dates. Their parents have paid exorbitant fee for their education. Now, they are merely getting Rs 15,000 per month in private companies. LIC and the railways are already getting privatised. In this whole scenario, if somebody thinks that we can be pacified with an increase in sugarcane prices, he is living in a fool’s paradise.”
Dharam Pal Singh, veteran leader of the All India Kisan Sabha, who has been engaged in mobilising farmers in Bulandshahar and neighbouring districts for the last few days, told NewsClick that farmers clearly understand the design that the Uttar Pradesh government has laid out to woo the farmers. “The government has increased the FRP of sugarcane by Rs 5 per quintal. But the question that they seem to have forgotten remains who will be benefitting from this hilarious increase. It will be primarily the mill owners, not the farmers. Leaving it aside, even if they increase the State Advised Price (SAP) after three years, what message does it sent to the farmers?”
Singh added, “From Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the people who have been working on the ground, this important gathering has only one message: bury the politics of social rift stoked by the gangs who were hand in gloves with British imperialists in the national movement for independence. After a long time, we have seen that people are more interested in politics of issues, not religion, caste or region. This in itself is our message.” When asked about the number of participants at the gathering, he said it was impossible at the time.
A volunteer here, Mubashir, while talking to NewsClick said, “Along with farming, we also want to focus on the grave issues related to health, education, and unemployment. Because if they succeed in suppressing this movement, they will makes sure that future movement, too, are nipped in the bud.”
As the gathering continued to swell up, farmers’ leaders maintained that the trains and buses bound for the venue were deliberately stopped at various places by the administration to prevent people from participating. Sukh Darshan Singh from Punjab Kisan Union told NewsClick that their train New Delhi Dehradun Shatabdi Special train was deliberately stopped at New Delhi railway station. It was later run after much insistence. Similar reports poured in from Meerut, Bulandshahar and other places.
Watch NewsClick's live coverage of the Kisan Mahapanchayat from Muzaffarnagar here.