Gleaming tractors add to buzz at borders
Gleaming tractors that have been serviced, washed and adorned with the tricolour and banners; farmers busy giving finishing touches to tableaux on agricultural themes; volunteers setting up mobile hospitals and another group registering the parade participants -- the farmer protest venues at Delhi’s borders were beehives of activity on Monday, the eve of the historic “tractor parade” to be held by farmers on Republic Day.
Tuesday’s event coincides with the two-month anniversary of the farmers’ agitation which began on November 26, when thousands of farmers from neighbouring states reached Delhi’s borders looking to enter the Capital to protest against the three farm laws. When they were denied entry, they camped at the border points, the main camps being at Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Chilla.
President of Krantikari Kisan Union Darshan Pal said farmers will also take out a “padyatra (pedestrian march)” to the Parliament on February 1, the first day of the budget session. “People who have come here from across the country to participate in the parade will stay back and take part in the padyatra,” he said, adding that the Republic Day “tractor parade” may continue up to 48 hours.
Balwinder Singh, 64, a farmer from Bhullar village in Kapurthala district of Punjab, who has been camping at Singhu border, said, “This parade is to express our anguish over the farm laws. Tractors are instrumental in farming and we want to celebrate our Republic Day by displaying our tractors.”
Farmers have taken special care to clean their tractors and put up flags and banners. Garvinder Singh, 35, a farmer from Tiwana village in Mohali said everyone in his village had wanted to join the parade. “I serviced my vehicle before coming here to ensure that I can participate in the parade,” he said.
Komal Singh, a 20-year-old law student from Chandigarh, and her cousin rode a scooter to Delhi. “Normally, my mother would not have allowed me to ride to Delhi. But when she saw that entire caravans of people were marching towards Delhi, she let me go. There were hundreds of vehicles on the road from Chandigarh to Delhi and I felt like was among family. I have never felt so safe,” said Singh, adding that the journey took her around 10 hours due to the traffic on highways.
Tuesday’s Republic Day celebrations by farmers will also feature a number of tableaux depicting several social issues, including privatisation of agriculture, farmer debts, widows and children of farmers who died by suicide, atrocities against Dalits, violence against women, and problems faced by migrants during the Covid-enforced lockdown last year.
Harinder Bindu, president of the women’s wing of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), who is camped at Tikri border, said, “These tableaux show the real picture of the country -- where the poor and the marginalised are suffering. We want the people to know that our fight is not just for farmers but for everyone, including those widowed or orphaned because of farm debt suicides,” she said.
Members of different student groups were also seen preparing for the parade. Navkiran Natt, of the All India Students’ Union (AISA), said, “We have prepared a tableau depicting how farmers are being exploited by the government and corporates.”
To ensure the tractor parade remains peaceful, farmers have formed groups to look after security. Farmer leaders at UP Gate border said their route has been divided into nine zones and each zone will have 200 volunteers present who will be assisting the police during the rally.
“For identification purposes, each volunteer will be wearing a yellow jacket and an identification card. Some of them will be riding motorcycles or driving cars along with emergency vehicles. These groups will carry walkie-talkies to coordinate with other volunteers,” said Dharmendra Malik, Bharatiya Kisan Union’s (BKU) spokesperson.
On Monday, five help desks were set up at the Ghazipur venue for registration of tractors and drivers for the parade. The volunteers were checking driving licences and Aadhaar cards and recording details in a register before issuing them the green registration cards.
“We are making a list of all tractors and drivers. We will only allow those tractors and drivers who will display the green registration card,” said Jitendra Singh alias Jitu, who is heading the volunteer groups.
The BKU spokesperson said three security teams of 15 volunteers each will be searching all tractor trolleys and tents and also frisking individuals with hand-held metal detectors.
“The checking has been going on for the past three days. We will not allow anyone to carry weapons. Since thousands of tractors will be in the rally, we have also arranged mechanics and cranes to repair or remove tractors that break down,” said Malik, adding that women will also be participating in the rally.
Farmers said a langar committee will distribute packed food among protesters during the parade. “There will be 3,000 volunteers in uniform at protest sites on Tuesday. While half of them will manage the traffic, others will keep an eye out to prevent any untoward incident,” said Jagmohan Singh, a member of BKU (Punjab).
Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of BKU (Rajewal), appealed to farmers to maintain peace and discipline during the parade. “The government will witness the biggest show of strength this Republic Day. We will maintain peace as we have been doing from Day One,” he said.