Chandigarh: Thousands of protesting farmers from Punjab entered Haryana from various entry points at its border with Punjab, braving water cannons and tear gas shells on day one of the two-day ‘Dilli Chalo’ rally, even as chief ministers of the two states had a Twitter battle over the agitation.
Aided by farmers in Haryana, the protestors, who are opposing the three farm acts brought in by the Modi government this year, breached multiple layers of barricades put up by the state police. Clashes were reported at many places.
While farmer leaders lauded their success in breaking through the barriers, the Haryana Police accused them of injuring police personnel by initiating stone-pelting.
The farmers, many on foot and others on tractors and trolleys, intend to enter Delhi and stage a protest at Jantar Mantar or the Ramlila Maidan. However, both Delhi and Haryana imposed checks and barriers at their borders Wednesday and Thursday, to keep the protesting farmers out, citing Covid restrictions.
While Delhi imposed barricades at its border with Haryana, the latter imposed restrictions at all points along its borders with Punjab and the national capital.
Farmers vs Haryana Police
The protesters are led by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a group of 31 farmer unions.
Beginning Wednesday, they started gathering at more than half-a-dozen points on the border between Haryana and Punjab.
As the farmers forced their way into Haryana Thursday afternoon, dramatic scenes were reported from the Shambhu barrier bridge on the border passing through Ambala. Thousands of farmers unchained metal road barriers put up by the police, and threw them into the Ghaggar river.
At the Khanauri border between Patiala and Jind, farmers who had spent the night on the spot encountered water cannons and tear gas shells as they moved into Haryana. The farmers used ropes and chains to remove the cement boulders placed on the roads as barricades.
In Karnal, the constituency of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the police tried to stop the farmers with water cannons and tear gas shells, but the barricades were broken down here too. Similar reports have come in from other entry points as well.
The police barricading at various entry points on the Haryana-Punjab border lead to massive traffic jams through the day. Traffic congestion was also reported from the Delhi-Haryana border and the capital’s border with UP’s Noida as police checked every vehicle on the road. Punjab, Haryana and Delhi police had all issued advisories since Wednesday, asking people to avoid trips through the borders, unless it is urgent.
All set for ‘Dilli Chalo’
The farmers who entered Haryana will camp in their tractors and trolleys, as well as gurdwaras in nearby villages, Thursday night.
“Despite the unprecedented bandobast by Haryana Police, Punjab farmers with active help from Haryana farmers managed to break through and move ahead from almost every Punjab-Haryana border barricade,” said Darshan Pal, convener of the AIKSCC.
“It is a big victory for us. Tomorrow, these farmers will move towards the Haryana-Delhi borders. We are expecting to be stopped on these borders as well but the fight will go on and we are not ready to back down at any stage,” he said.
Pal added that farmers who had managed to enter Haryana were now stationed at Panipat, Jind and Hisar.
“We are ready for the long haul and are travelling with raw material for food, cooking fuel, quilts and gas cylinders. The villages nearby have provided us with milk, and, in many places, food is being cooked in the gurudwaras and served to us,” added Gurdial Singh, a farmer camping near the Punjab-Haryana border in Khanauri.
Police accuse farmers of stone-pelting
In a statement issued Thursday, Haryana Director General of Police (DGP) Manoj Yadav accused the farmers of taking an aggressive stance and injuring police personnel with stone-pelting, adding that police acted with restraint.
“Our field units today tried to prevent farmers coming from Punjab from entering Haryana in a restrained manner at the district border points. Police also tried to convince them by establishing barricades. But the agitating farmers not only damaged the police barricades, but proceeded by removing all the blockades and obstructions in an unlawful manner,” he said.
“Acting with restraint, police did not use force on the agitating farmers. On the contrary, the farmers took an aggressive stand and tried to disturb the law and order by pelting stones at police in many places. In this entire episode, not only a number of police personnel were injured but police and private vehicles were also damaged,” he said.
Some “anti-social and mischievous elements”, he added, are also working to damage public property “under the guise of the farmers’ agitation”. Strict action will be taken against such people, he said.
Union minister reiterates invitation for talks
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh Thursday lashed out at what he described as the use of brutal force by Haryana in a “futile bid” to stop the agitating farmers from going to Delhi. “This is an assault on their constitutional and democratic right to protest,” he said in a statement. He and Khattar also exchanged barbs on Twitter.
Addressing a press conference in Amritsar, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal said the BJP governments in Haryana as well as at the Centre had “outraged the Constitution on Constitution Adoption Day in dealing with the peacefully and democratically protesting farmers”.
Badal said that the Modi government was “treating Punjab as if it were not a part of the country”.
The Punjab chief of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bhagwant Mann, said “police action against the farmers was a highly reprehensible act”.
With the farmers’ protest showing no signs of letting up, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar reiterated the central government’s offer for talks with the farmer bodies on 3 December.
“New farm laws were the need of the hour. In the coming time, they are going to bring revolutionary changes. We’ve spoken at the secretary level in Punjab to dispel wrong notions of our farmer brothers there. We’ll talk on 3 December,” Tomar told ANI.
“I want to appeal to our farmer brothers to not agitate. We’re ready to talk about issues and resolve differences. I’m sure that our dialogue will have a positive result,” he added.
Earlier discussions in this regard between the two sides failed to yield a resolution.
While the central government has described the laws as reform, many farmer unions have rejected them as undermining the interest of farmers.