New Delhi: It’s Tuesday, the sixth day of the farmer protests at the Singhu border between Haryana and Delhi. Trolleys and tractors have become makeshift homes and the national highway between them, small lanes.
Farmer union flags and a colourful range of turbans dominate the street. With much of the demographic drawn from rural Punjab and Haryana, the protesters have replicated their villages here — there is a langar every 100 metres, the elders listen to the radio inside their tractors, the young prepare lunch and shout slogans every few minutes to keep the atmosphere vibrant.
Among those in the crowd Monday was Ramandeep Singh Maan, a farmer and an activist who clamed he was not affiliated to any union.
Maan told ThePrint that they have landed here as their smaller protests were ignored. “The ordinances were introduced on 5 June. Soon after, we read it, only to realise that this is not in our favour,” he said. “We tried telling the state government so but received no assurance. On 15 August, we waved black flags to register our resistance and named these amendments the black laws.”
Maan admits the movement took some planning and isn’t all spontaneous. “A single union leader was made responsible to spread the message in at least five villages each,” he said. “We had roughly a month to actually plan what you are seeing today.”
While representatives from Bangla Sahib and Rakab Ganj Sahib Gurdwara have been helping the farmers by providing langar, the protestors are not solely dependent on them. Most of them have come prepared in groups, with at least two months worth of ration, blankets to fight Delhi’s winter and even cards to pass the time.
Even so, Maan said, the crowd has exceeded expectations leading to a few logistical issues. “In the day, everyone is comfortable in the winter sun so it doesn’t make a big difference if more people have turned up,” he said. “But at night it gets very cold and we are running low on blankets and tents.”
Staying put in Singhu
Constituting 31 farmers unions alone from Punjab and a few more, the protest, union leaders say, is growing in size.
The Modi government had offered to move them to the Burari grounds near the Karnal bypass in Delhi but the farmers remain firm on staying put.
They are also committed to their demand — repeal of the three laws passed in September. “The farmers want unconditional dialogue. It’s an insult to the lakh of farmers on the borders when the government says that the law will remain,” the Bharat Kisan Union (BKU) Haryana’s Bhupender Chaudhary told ThePrint.
“Our demands remain the same — that the three laws must be revoked, MSP should be guaranteed and a law be made that ensures legal steps against any buyer, private or government, who buys below the MSP,” Chaudhary added.
The Modi government is now willing to engage the farmers in unconditional dialogue but isn’t ready to withdraw its three farm laws as of now. However, the BJP has said the government will be ready to make changes to the laws if a need is felt following talks with the protesters.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar invited the protesting farmers for talks later Tuesday. Gurnam Singh of BKU Haryana and Balbir Singh Rajewal of BKU Punjab among others will be going, union members told ThePrint.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will be leading the talks after the meeting was rescheduled for December 1, instead of December 3.
Suresh Koth of BKU Haryana claimed that the protests will only get bigger if the government does not resolve the crisis. “Right now, only farmers have come. If this protest lasts long, their families will also land up here,” Koth said. “We cannot lose this fight under any circumstances.”
“Driving 500 km in tractors and walking long distances is not an easy task,” Parminder Singh Chalaki, General Secretary, BKU Punjab told ThePrint. “This shows that farmers have really understood that it’s about their future. There is no turning back now.”
Keeping political sentiments out
The protesters have, since the start of the agitation, been clear about not letting the agitation be hijacked by any political party.
“Politicians are more than welcome to come here and show their support, but only farmers and union leaders can take the stage,” Chalaki said. “We are trying very hard to ensure that our end-goal remains undeterred.”
Politicisation isn’t the only charge against the protests. Since the farmers have reached the border, conversations and allegations about Khalistanis have been gaining momentum — just not among them.
“The government and national media are trying very hard to defame this protest. This protest has nothing to do with any religion or any political agenda,” BKU Haryana’s Bhupendra Chaudhary told ThePrint. “Those among us who attacked the police were punished by the union leaders themselves. How can you allege any Khalistani angle?”
Chaudhary says he has blocked at least 20 people on Twitter who keep commenting about Khalistan on his tweets. “The few who are making such statements inside the protest area are actually sponsored by the government and are doing so in their individual capacity,” he alleged.
As the sun sets and temperature drops, the camaraderie among the people only grows stronger. This Gurupurb will be celebrated a little differently than any other year. Hope remains in the air on the Singhu border as farmers light candles and listen to paath. “We will not bend in front of the government. We are not begging for anything, we are only fighting for our rights,” Chalaki said.