New Delhi: The Haryana police on Thursday used water cannons and teargas in a bid to stop thousands of farmers from Punjab from proceeding towards the national capital for their “Delhi Chalo” march against the Centre’s new farm laws.
The situation got tense at the Shambu inter-state border on the national highway as farmers threw police barricades off the bridge into the Ghaggar river. It was after a two-hour clash on the bridge that farmers from Congress-run Punjab managed to cross into BJP-ruled Haryana, which used heavy force to try and block them for making their way towards Delhi in tractors and on foot on their two-day protest march against the new farm laws that they fear will reduce their earnings and give more power to large retailers. Many roads in Haryana, especially those in Gurgaon, were clogged with heavy traffic as barricades had been put up at different places to prevent the protesters from entering Delhi. The roadblocks were especially intense in places like Kundli, near Sonipat, and on the Delhi-Gurgaon border at Sirhaul and Rajokri.
However, despite the tight security measures, about 70-odd protesters, including some trade union members, managed to gather near Jantar Mantar, in the heart of Delhi, but were detained after refusing to vacate the area.
Amid huge protests, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed to the farmers to suspend their agitation and invited them for talks on December 3. “The government is committed to the welfare of farmers and we are ready for talks. Whether it’s about minimum support price or infrastructure, we are ready for a discussion,” he said.
The agitation saw Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh entering into a war of words on Twitter with Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar, who urged him to “stop inciting innocent farmers”. Capt. Singh attacked the Haryana CM, saying: “Shocked at your response Manohar Lal Khattarji. It’s farmers who’ve to be convinced on MSP, not me. You should’ve tried to talk to them before their ‘Delhi Chalo’. And if you think I’m inciting farmers, why are Haryana farmers also marching to Delhi?”.
The Punjab CM said: “As for endangering lives during Covid-19, have you forgotten it was the BJP-led Central government that pushed through those farm laws amid the pandemic, uncaring about the impact they’d have on our farmers? Why didn’t you speak out then, Manohar Lal Khattarji?”
Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal condemned the Haryana government and the Central government for choosing to repress the peaceful farmers’ movement. “Today is Punjab’s 26/11. We are witnessing the end of the right to democratic protest. The Akali Dal condemns Haryana govt & Centre for choosing to repress peaceful farmer movement. Battle for Punjab farmers’ rights can’t be throttled by using water cannons against them,” he tweeted.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee also targeted the Centre, saying it wants to “capture” all the fundamental rights of the people. “They cannot curb the democratic rights of farmers! The farm laws are illegal. If a law is not meant for farmers but for black marketeers, it is illegal. Why does the Central govt want to snatch farmers’ rights?” she asked.
Activist Yogendra Yadav also criticised the BJP-governed states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for preventing farmers from protesting. He said any police action would only embolden more farmers to join in. “Three lakh farmers are marching... the numbers show the extent of anger (against the laws),” he said, targeting Haryana deputy CM Dushyant Chautala, who has often said he is a farmers’ representative in the state government, to step down and apologise to the farmers. He was later detained in Gurgaon along with around 50 farmers as they tried to cross into Delhi to join the nationwide protest. Activist Medha Patkar and many famers were also stopped by the UP police at the Rajasthan border and later detained.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal also tweeted in support of allowing farmers to express their voice against the three farm laws. “All the three farm laws of the Central government are anti-farmer. Instead of withdrawing these laws, farmers are being prevented from holding peaceful protests, water cannons are being run on them. This crime is absolutely wrong. Peaceful demonstration is their constitutional right,” the AAP chief said.
Farmers from six states -- Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab -- have been planning the November 26-27 march for two months. The farmers and Opposition parties have said these laws should be repealed, or the MSP system should be woven into the laws.