The biggest “who-blinks-first” contest in recent memory does not seem to be ending anytime soon. If anything, there are clear signs that the face-off between the Centre and the entire lot of peasantry from Punjab and Haryana at the Delhi borders will scale up, if the Centre does not relent on their demand for setting in motion modalities to withdraw the three contested farm laws and legalise MSPs on December 30, the date given to the Centre for dialogues.
According to two farmer leaders — Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Uion (BKU) and Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) — if the Centre continues to insist on implementing the three farm laws even on Wednesday, the agitation will “enter Phase II”.
Protest 2.0 agenda
“Phase II” begins from a ‘Kisan March’ on Delhi’s Ring Road and a pledge on New Year’s Day, for which invitation has been extended to the public to join in, to support and escalate the farmers’ struggle. The January 1 pledge will follow efforts to surround State capitals across the country, while Delhi will remain the epicentre of the protests.
After 32 days, not only has the number of protesters doubled at the existing venues on Singhu and Tikri borders, but crowds from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have also beeen swelling at fresh sites such as the Shahjahanpur border on the Delhi-Jaipur highway at NH-8, and the Ghazipur border between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh at NH-24.
At the Singhu border between Delhi and Sonepat (Haryana), on the arterial GT Karnal Road or NH-1, the columns of tractors and trucks that ferry farmers and their daily provisions have added strength in the last two weeks. To start with, about 14 km of the GT Karnal Road were occupied by the protesters. The columns are now over 17-19 km long, according to some estimates. At the Tikri border on the Delhi-Bahadurgarh road, the columns are now 18-km long.
There are varying estimates of the number of protesters who have converted these sites into small townships with large langars (community kitchens), LED TV sets, rows of toilet facilities and water supplied by tankers from the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) whose Vice-Chairman and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Raghav Chadha is openly backing the movement.
At the Singhu border, 44 personnel manage the distribution of over 25 DJB tankers carrying 1,25,000 litres of water. Farmers have brought large batteries on their tractors to power inverters. Solar panels have been set up on tractors for charging phones and LED bulbs. Also, neighbourhood shopkeepers and villagers have been approached for temporary electricity connections, with promises of due payment.
Gurudwaras and NGOs
Villagers on both sides of the two highways in Haryana are supporting them by joining in the protest as well as providing daily supply of fruit, vegetables, milk, lassi, gas cylinders and stoves. Simultaneously, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and its affiliated gurudwaras across the country, from places as far as Nanded in Maharashtra, have joined forces to provide logistical support and strength to the agitators by opening langars, pitching up tents, and providing sanitation facilities with the aid of sympathetic NGOs and aid organisations such as KhalsaAid, a UK-based humanitarian relief organisation that had worked during earthquake in Gujarat and floods in Bihar and Kerala.
How it works with the gurudwaras was explained by Parminder Singh, a young protester from Ghuman Kalan village in Gurudaspur. Parminder is associated with the Gurudwara Tap Asthan and its main granthi (priest), Sant Baba Hazare, and had been camping at the Singhu border since November 26. He went back to the villages to tend to the wheat crop while his cousins and brothers joined the protesters in his stead.
Parminder said a bus from the gurudwara visits each of the villages in Tehsil Gurudaspur and collects milk and provisions everyday and then races to the Singhu border. “It is a 10-hour journey and the buses do relay runs. The bus/driver and attendants reach Singhu and rest while the empty bus from there comes back to do its share of daily collections,” Parminder told BusinessLine.
This is the system being followed by the gurudwaras in each village. Besides, 90 khaps (community organisations of Jats) in Haryana villages adjoining the arterial roads where the protesters are camped have taken responsibility to provide basic facilities on a daily basis to the protesters. According to Chowdhary Om Prakash Hooda of the Hooda khap in Khadwali village, Rohtak district, instructions have been given in each of about 38 villages dominated by the Hooda khap to supply milk, vegetables, lassi, wheat, rice and pulses everyday to protesters at the Tikri and Singhu borders.
“About 800 of us have been camping at the Tikri border near Bahadurgarh. From the Khadwali khap, provisions are supplied every day to the protest site. The protesters ferried their own gas cylinders on tractors and we have arranged as many as required. It is a small thing to arrange. Haryana is one with Punjab in this struggle. We have fed the country for generations. We can feed ourselves without anyone else’s help for sure. We are not beggars. We are farmers with land and pride. Don’t let anyone underestimate our strength and solidarity,” Hooda told BusinessLine.
Major Singh Punnawala of the Punjab Kisan Sabha feels that with the support of the SGPC and general public , the movement will only gain strength.