Tear gas and water cannons have been fired at farmers – who responded by throwing stones – massing at the Shambhu border crossing between Punjab and Haryana – where farmers from each state have gathered and are trying to march on the national capital as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ call.
Around 200 farmer unions – and an estimated one lakh farmers from neighbouring Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh – began moving towards Delhi Tuesday morning, in a worrying replay of the 2020/21 protests, in which dozens died and the city was blockaded and cut-off for months
Visuals showed huge plumes of smoke – making visibility almost impossible – and hundreds of farmers and their supporters, as well as media personnel, running helter-skelter to the sound of tear gas shells being fired.
The shelling – the first signs of violence in these protests – broke as the clock struck noon and the farmers began their push to Delhi. An estimated two dozen shells were fired, despite no immediate signs of provocation.
Visuals from the Shambhu border – over 200 km from Delhi – also showed outnumbered police and security personnel dropping smoke bombs from drones to disperse the farmers.
Videos also showed farmers, with scarves wrapped around their faces, jumping concrete barriers to push aside metal barricades, and war zone-like scenes with green fields shrouded in smoke and gun fire (from tear gas guns) in the background. In one video farmers are throwing stones at the police.
— ANI (@ANI) February 13, 2024
Yet more visuals showed farmers throwing police barricades off a flyover.
The Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, one of the farmer groups behind this protest, has said an estimated 10,000 people have already gathered at the Shambhu border point.
“The farmers are peaceful (but) tear gas is being used against us through drones. The protest will continue till the government agrees to our demands,” General Secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher said.
Police in Haryana and Punjab have been prepping for this protest for the past few days, positioning concrete slabs and heavy metal barricades to block highways, and stop farmers and tractors pulling trolleys full of food and essential supplies – a signal of their intent to launch a second long-term protest.
Several farmers were detained after they tried to remove these cement barriers.
Concrete slabs, iron nails, barricades, barbed wires, police and paramilitary personnel deployed in Haryana’s Jind as a measure to maintain law and order in view of farmers ‘Delhi Chalo’ march
#WATCH | Haryana: Concrete slabs, iron nails, barricades, barbed wires, police and paramilitary personnel deployed in Haryana’s Jind as a measure to maintain law and order in view of farmers ‘Delhi Chalo’ march pic.twitter.com/GNFrVaoxIy
— ANI (@ANI) February 13, 2024
Concrete blocks and nails have also been placed on key roads leading into Delhi to prevent tractors and trollies from entering the city, where orders banning large gatherings are in force till March 12.
Within Delhi, police have shut down key border crossings into each state, resulting in traffic jams at the Ghazipur and Chilla points, which connect the city with Ghaziabad and Noida in UP.
Other border points, including Singhu and Tikri, which were major protest sites four years ago, have also been fortified. These include setting up nail strips across roads to stop farmers’ vehicles from forcing their way past check posts and placing metal barricades, including barbed wire fences.
The Singhu border – the main Delhi-Chandigarh road – has been blocked on both sides.
Also in Delhi, police are practising firing teargas shells; a video accessed by NDTV shows cops firing teargas shells in an open area in north Delhi, an exercise that left area residents in discomfort.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the anti-protest measures; “Is the laying nails in the path of farmers ‘amritkaal‘ or ‘anyaykaal‘?” Ms Gandhi Vadra asked on X, attacking the ruling BJP for not fulfilling promises to farmers. “Mr Prime Minister! Why such behaviour with the country’s farmers? Why don’t you fulfil the promises…”
“We Have Everything We Need…”
Farmers marching on Delhi told NDTV they are coming prepared for another siege-like situation.
“From a needle to hammer, we have everything we need, including tools to break stones. We left our village with six months’ ration with us. We have enough diesel, even for our brothers from Haryana,” Harbhajan Singh, from Punjab’s Gurdaspur, who was part of the 2020 protest too, said.
“We didn’t budge through 13 months last time. We were promised our demands will be met, but the government didn’t keep its promise. This time, we will leave only after all our demands are met.”
Government Races To Contain Protests
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – aware of a potentially disastrous impact on its public image weeks before a general election – has already held one meeting with reps of protesting farmer unions.
Two union ministers, including junior Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, met farmer leaders late Monday. Some progress was made – an agreement was struck on repealing the Electricity Act, 2020 and on providing compensation to farmers killed in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri.
However, there was no resolution of the farmers’ primary concerns – a law to guarantee MSP, or minimum support price for all crops, loan waivers, and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations – meaning the second “Delhi Chalo” protest began as scheduled.
Mr Munda told NDTV “some people want to create problems” and called on the farmers to have patience and trust the government. “The government is committed to the interests of farmers,” he said.
“The talks did not lead to any result. We will start our march to Delhi… we will, however, discuss proposals given by the government. The government is at fault here,” a farmer leader said.
Rakesh Tikait’s Warning
Mr Tikait – a key figure in the 2020/21 protests against the government’s “black farm laws” – has backed the second ‘Delhi Chalo’ agitation, and issued a warning.
“There are several farmer unions and they have different issues… If the government creates a problem for farmers marching to Delhi, we are not far from them. We are in support of them…” he told reporters.
With input from agencies
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