Farmers let into Delhi after clashes at border
Thousands of farmers protesting the Union government’s new farm laws pushed their way into Delhi on Friday after skirmishes with the police, which fired tear gas and used water cannons to stop them from coming into the Capital, but later backed off and agreed to a peaceful demonstration within the city.
Several layers of barriers could not keep the protesters – mostly from Punjab, demanding a repeal of three laws enacted by Parliament – as they pelted stones and broke barricades to push through with their “Delhi Chalo” march.
The new laws allow agribusinesses to freely trade farm produce without restrictions, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales, and lay down new rules for contract farming.
The farmers groups, however, say that the laws are quiet on minimum support prices and will encourage monopolies and make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations.
Delhi Police agreed to let the farmers march into the Capital after hours of a stand-off at some entry points. While thousands – gathered at Delhi’s Tikri border (it opens into Bahadurgarh) – proceeded in trucks to Burari after they were allowed to stage demonstrations at the Sant Nirankari Ground, a larger group of agitators gathered at Singhu border (it opens into Sonepat) stayed put as it couldn’t build consensus on whether to accept the police’s offer or continue the march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Jantar Mantar, or some other venue close to the corridors of power.
By Friday morning, thousands gathered in trucks, tractors and trailers as they set up tents and camps. The police, too, camped on the other side through the night as large cement slabs, mud-filled trucks, barricades, and barbed wires separated them.
The stand-off at the Singhu border began around 8.30am, when a group of farmers tried to remove the barricades. The police responded by firing tear gas shells that appeared to temporarily contain the farmers. At around 9.30am, farmers at the Tikri border made a similar attempt. The police resorted to the use of water cannons and tear gas shells.
A little before 2pm, farmers managed to remove the barbed wires and then used ropes to tie the cement barriers to pull them out of their way at the Singhu border. They then brought down the iron barricades and threatened to march into Delhi.
The developments came a day after thousands of farmers from Punjab broke barricades and forced their way into Haryana, braving tear gas shells and water cannons on their way to Delhi, which prepared for a law-and-order challenge as well as traffic disruptions. The farmers threw several barricades from an overbridge into the Ghaggar river, facing tear gas shells by law enforcement personnel.
Traffic was disrupted in many parts of Delhi on Friday. The Delhi Traffic Police posted a series of tweets, asking people to avoid outer Ring Road, Mukarba Chowk, GTK road, NH-44 and Singhu border in view of the march.
Punjab farmers, representing over 30 farm bodies, previously announced they planned to go to Delhi through several routes – Lalru, Shambhu, Patiala-Pehowa, Patran-Khanauri, Moonak-Tohana, Ratia-Fatehabad and Talwandi-Sirsa. Tension remained high at all border points on Friday evening.
As the issue snowballed on Friday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said no government in the world can stop farmers fighting the “battle of truth”.
In a tweet in Hindi, Gandhi said the PM should remember that whenever arrogance takes on truth, it gets defeated. “The Modi government will have to agree to the demands of the farmers and take back the black laws. This is just the beginning!” he tweeted with the hashtag ‘IamWithFarmers’.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the Union government’s decision to allow the farmers to enter Delhi to exercise their democratic right to protest. “They should also now initiate immediate talks to address farmers’ concerns on the #FarmLaws and resolve the simmering issue,” he said on Twitter.
Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar was quoted by ANI as saying: “The government has always been ready to discuss issues with farmers. We have invited farmers’ organisations for another round of talks on December 3. I appeal to them to drop the agitation in view of Covid-19 and winter.”
The scenes from both borders on Friday morning were of mayhem.
At Singhu, a man climbed into a mud-laden truck – deployed by the police to keep farmers away – found the ignition key inside, and drove it into a water cannon parked nearby. As a group of policemen tried to stop him, he went on to ram a parked private bus and push it for nearly 100m before being apprehended. At another spot on the same border, a group of men climbed onto a tear gas machine vehicle and twisted the barrel to face the vehicle.
The police responded by cane-charging them, firing several tear gas shells, and using water cannons on them. While some farmers crushed the shells with their feet, a few others wrapped them in cloth and hurled them back at the police.
Gaurav Sharma, deputy commissioner of police (outer north), said that the situation was in control. “We had to use some force to contain them, but the situation was in control the entire day,” said Sharma.
The farmers were not keen on returning to their homes. “Some farmers have come from 400km away. We have dealt with the Haryana Police for long distances and covered roads dug out to keep us away. We are not going to back off at the last lap of our march,” said Saj Rinku, a farmer from Moga.
“After discussion with farmer leaders, the protesting farmers have been permitted inside Delhi to hold peaceful protest at Nirankari Ground in Burari. The Delhi Police appeals to them to maintain peace,” said Eish Singhal, Delhi Police spokesperson.
Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal said: “We have been allowed safe passage to Delhi.”
Before being allowed through the Tikri border, farmers clashed with the police and tried to remove a truck, which was placed as a barricade, by tying it to a tractor with the help of a chain.
At the Singhu border, the police said they couldn’t find the farmers’ group leaders to discuss the next course of action. The farmers said that they did not have consensus on whether or not to accept the Burari offer. “We have not come all the way from Punjab and Haryana to be sent to an empty ground far away from the centre of Delhi. We could as well have sat at our homes. We’ll either march up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan or somewhere closer, or continue our protest at this spot. Our leaders are talking among themselves to decide,” said Dalveer Singh, a farmer from Ludhiana.
In Burari, farmers began gathering by Friday evening. The police and government agencies also began preparing the ground by bringing in mobile toilets, water tankers, tents.
Hoshiyar Singh, a 65-year-old farmer from Ropar, Punjab, said they reached Nirankari Ground around 4pm. “We had been detained near Bangla sahib on Thursday night. Police later released us and we came here. Our other farmer friends are at Singhu Border and they plan to stay put until we get Ramlila Ground as the site to protest,” he said.
RS Mani of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University said: “Farmers fear the reforms will disturb the minimum support price mechanism. Since the government sets MSPs, farmers are fair to demand actual realisation of those MSPs. But fears of any imminent threat to the MSP system seem exaggerated.”