Shops, transport take a hit as Bharat Bandh impacts states
A nationwide shutdown strike called by 35 farmers’ groups against three contentious agricultural laws was largely peaceful on Tuesday even as shops and businesses were closed and transport was affected in some parts of the country where demonstrators put up road blockades and squatted on railway tracks.
The maximum impact of Bharat Bandh was felt in Punjab and Haryana, the epicentre of the ongoing protests by cultivators who are demanding the repeal of the laws aimed at the liberalising farm trade. Western Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, too, felt the impact of the strike observed between 11am and 3pm.
The impact was moderate in states such as Bihar, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, among others, and negligible in northeastern states — except Assam — and Goa.
The Bharat Bandh was successful and the central government now knows it doesn’t have a way out, a farmers’ leader, Gurnam Singh Chadhuni, said at the Singhu border connecting Delhi and Haryana. It is one of the key entry points to the national capital and has been blocked since farmers reached the borders on November 27 to press their demands.
The shutdown was observed in around 10,000 places in 25 states, said Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav. “Fisher folk, railway workers, trade unions and artists are among many organisations who have supported us,” he added.
The agricultural laws passed in September allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the so-called mandi system controlled by the government, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming. Farmers fear the reforms could pave the way for the government to stop buying staples at federally fixed minimum support prices (MSPs) and would leave them at the mercy of private buyers.
Left leaders said the Opposition had taken a conscious decision to stay away from protest sites, even though most of them extended support to the bandh call. Farmers’ leaders, who are in talks with the Centre and say they demand nothing short of repeal of the legislation, had called for an apolitical protest.
“It is a conscious decision on our part to stay away from the protest sites. The farmer groups themselves also told us that they would want it this way. So, we have no party banners at the protest sites.
“However, our MPs are there, as parliamentarians, to show solidarity. We do not want to politicise the issue. It’s not just the Left parties, but all opposition has taken this call that except MPs, no leader will join the farmers,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
Nevertheless, workers of political rivals of the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joined the protests in several states. The police detained protesting leaders in several states, including Gujarat Congress leader Paresh Dhanani and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad.
In Punjab and Haryana, farmers blocked national highways and other key roads at many places. Shops and commercial establishments remained closed at most places in Punjab and several places in Haryana as traders backed the agitating farmers.
Public and private transport services were shut in Punjab. In Haryana, inter-state and intra-state bus services were disrupted.
Over 50,000 government employees took mass casual leave in support of farmers, said Punjab Civil Secretariat Staff Association president Sukhchain Khaira.
Agitators blocked several key roads, including Chandigarh-Delhi, Amritsar-Delhi, Hisar-Delhi and Bhiwani-Delhi national highways. They parked tractors, trucks and other vehicles in the middle of the carriageways.
In West Bengal, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee has supported the farmers, local train services were impacted in North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly districts due to the demonstrations.
Supporters of the Congress and Left parties blocked railway tracks at several places and held demonstrations on roads to enforce the shutdown. The bandh partially affected the state with private vehicles remaining off the roads, while fewer public transport vehicles, including buses and taxis, were in service.
Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel chased away Left workers at Howrah station when they blocked the entrance. Congress workers in Kolkata and other districts forced shops and petrol pumps to shut in some areas.
In Jaipur, a clash broke out between National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) members and BJP Yuva Morcha workers outside a BJP office. Agriculture markets remained closed and public transport remained off the roads in Rajasthan on Tuesday, just like in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
In Uttar Pradesh, the bandh called by farmer unions drew a mixed response with shops and offices remaining largely open, while the Samajwadi Party (SP) held protests in a number of districts and blocked a train in Allahabad.
SP leaders sat on a silent protest near the statue of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh at the Vidhan Bhavan in Lucknow. SP members of the legislative council Rajpal Kashyap, Sunil Singh Sajan, Anand Bhadauria and Ashu Malik were part of it.
However, life in state capital remained mostly unaffected with district magistrate Abhishek Prakash saying that attendance in offices was absolutely normal.
In Bihar’s Jehanabad, the movement of the Patna-Palamu Express was obstructed for a few minutes until the bandh supporters, squatting on the tracks, were chased away by the police.
Train services were also affected in Odisha as activists of farmers’ organisations, trade unions and political parties held sit-ins on tracks in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Bhadrak and Balasore.
Elsewhere in the state, ruled by the Biju Janata Dal, normal life was hit with markets and offices shut and Congress and Left supporters blocking major roads. Major cities in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh were deserted with most business establishments closed and public transport keeping away.
In Maharashtra, where the ruling Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress combine extended its support, wholesale markets in major cities such as Pune, Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad were shut. Retail shops also downed shutters in many cities. Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) were closed in many parts of the state.
In Assam, shops pulled down shutters, protesters blocked traffic and demonstrations were staged but most offices were functioning. Dozens of protesters were detained, officials said.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi and opposition parties, including the Congress and various unions, held protests across Telangana. In Tamil Nadu, the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies, including the Congress, held protests across the state but life was mostly unaffected. In the union territory of Puducherry, ruled by the Congress, however, the bandh call evoked a good response.
The bandh evoked a mixed response in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. In Gwalior district, police used water cannons to disperse agitators who were led by a Congress leader. Shops remained open in several cities even as Congress workers took out rallies appealing shop-keepers to down shutters.
Normal life was affected in parts of Karnataka as farmers and workers hit the roads. Many organisations in the state came out in support of the bandh. In some states, including in Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, life continued unimpeded.