Chandigarh/New Delhi: After staging an almost two-month-long agitation in Punjab over the farm laws, the state’s farmers — aided by farmers in Haryana — are poised for a direct confrontation with the Modi government as part of their two-day ‘Dilli-Chalo’ agitation, slated to begin Thursday.
Thousands of farmers are gearing up to enter Delhi for the agitation from different points in Haryana in the face of restrictions — at Haryana’s border with Delhi, and Punjab’s with Haryana — put up by the state’s Manohar Lal Khattar government.
The Haryana Police has already taken more than 70 farmer leaders in preventive custody ahead of the agitation. “We might have to resort to some strong measures to ensure that the law and order of our state is not jeopardised. Residents are advised not to travel through the Haryana-Delhi and Haryana-Punjab border points if it is avoidable,” Khattar said at a press conference Tuesday.
Haryana Police stated Wednesday that farmers were already gathering at the Punjab border — in Jind, Sirsa and Ambala — since morning, but said the numbers were still small enough to not warrant a complete sealing of borders.
Even Delhi Police, which is overseen by the central government, cited Covid restrictions to say they would not allow the farmers to camp as planned at Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Mantar.
Reacting to the measures taken by Haryana, farmer leaders Wednesday asked supporters to start moving towards Delhi immediately and begin marching from wherever they could.
Farmer leaders say they are setting off for Delhi armed with blankets and cooking provisions, claiming that they are prepared to dig in for the long haul.
‘Prepared for the long haul’
A group of 30 farmer unions in Punjab has been agitating against the three farm laws passed by the Modi government earlier this year — legislations the central government describes as reform but many farmer unions have rejected as undermining the interest of farmers.
Punjab farmers have collaborated with more than 470 kisan and trade unions across the country for the Dilli Chalo agitation.
“We have been protesting in Punjab for almost one-and-a-half months and the time has come to shake up the Government of India in its heart,” said Dr Darshan Pal, convener, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. “We are prepared for the long haul including spending months in the Ramlila ground or outside the Jantar Mantar.
“Groups of farmers have been advised to use tractors and trolleys to travel. We know that we will be stopped first at the Haryana border and farmers in Haryana are going to be stopped on the Haryana-Delhi border, but we are prepared to live on these borders,” he added.
Talking about their preparations, Jhujhar Singh, a farmer from Morinda, said they were bringing “raw material to cook food and carrying quilts, cooking fuel, stoves and even bikes in case we have to run around in the local area to purchase raw material”.
“In some cases, whole villages are going to move out for the agitation,” he added.
Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of Bharat Kisan Union (Rajewal), one of the prominent organisations leading the agitation, tweeted that “Haryana Chief Minister Khattar has sealed borders for Punjab farmers to prove that Punjab is not part of India”.
Haryana CM Khattar has sealed borders for Pb farmers to prove that Pb is not part of India . O K .We will peacefully block route to Himachal and J and K .Will start dharna on road .
— Balbir Singh Rajewal (@BRajewal) November 24, 2020
Haryana Police strengthens vigil
Talking to ThePrint, Haryana Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Navdeep Singh Virk said they had imposed restrictions at the Punjab and Haryana borders but they were not sealed per se.
“It is just that Haryana will not allow Punjab farmers to spill into Haryana and move onwards to Delhi. Wherever they try to enter Haryana, they will be stopped. But there is no sealing for the general public,” he added.
On Tuesday, he said, police issued an advisory for the general public to avoid travel through the borders if it isn’t urgent.
Travel Advisory by Haryana Police for 25-27 Nov, 2020 in view of planned farmers “Delhi Chalo” call. pic.twitter.com/pkmgwsALSL
— Navdeep Virk IPS (@nsvirk) November 24, 2020
“There are some reports of a few hundred farmers gathering on the Jind border and some at the Sirsa border, but the numbers are not that huge that we would be required to shut down the entry points completely,” Virk added.
“Our men and material are already on all entry points. We have cement boulders to block the roads. Apart from Haryana Police, we have drawn forces from the Haryana armed police… Some units of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) have been called in from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). We are fully geared up for any situation,” said Virk.
Delhi refuses entry
Delhi Police has said that Section 144 — which prevents gathering of more than five people at a given site — will be imposed at both Ramlila Maidan and the Jantar Mantar.
“Section 144 will be imposed and there will be checks at all entry points into Delhi. Only those who are genuinely coming into Delhi because they live here or work here will be allowed in. If any protester tries to enter by faking their identity, legal action will be taken,” said Eish Singhal, Delhi Police Public Relations Officer.
Delhi Police added that they had rejected requests from farmer organisations for permission to hold the protest on 11 November.
“We have already informed them that according to Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA, which is handling Covid control in the capital) guidelines, such a large gathering cannot be permitted amid the Covid pandemic,” said Singhal. “This will put our personnel as well as people of Delhi at risk. This has been communicated to the farmers many days ago so they cannot say that we have refused permission at the last minute.”
In a tweet Wednesday, Delhi Police reiterated that no permission has been granted to the protesters.
REGARDING FARMER ORGANIZATIONS MARCH TO DELHI ON 26&27 NOVEMBER
All the requests received from various Farmer Organisations regarding protest in Delhi on 26 and 27 November have been rejected and this has already been communicated to the organisers.@CPDelhi @LtGovDelhi
— #weservedilse_DCPNewDelhi (@DCPNewDelhi) November 25, 2020
ThePrint reached Delhi Health and Home Minister Satyendar Jain and Principal Secretary (home) Bhupinder S. Bhalla for comment through phone calls as well as email but there was no response by the time of publishing this report.
Gurdwaras waiting for protesters
Meanwhile, the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has promised to help the protesting farmers with food through langars.
“Over the past few years, we have provided food to all kinds of protesters in Delhi, irrespective of the cause they are protesting against. It is our religious duty to provide food and we will do that, there’s no political intention behind that,” said Manjinder Singh Sirsa, president of the DSGMC.
Sirsa is a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a former constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that broke ranks with the BJP over the farm bills.
The DSGMC, he said, will also help farmers with overnight stay arrangements and transport food to Delhi’s borders if required.
“We don’t know if the farmers will be able to enter Delhi or what their exact plans are, but if we need to even send food near borders we are ready to that. We will also help them with staying arrangements if need be,” he added.