Three-hour “chakka jam” hits Punjab, Haryana most; scattered impact in other States
The three-hour “chakka jam” or road blockade protest called by farm unions on Saturday went off smoothly, despite about 60 people being detained at a solidarity protest site within Delhi. There were also reports from some unions of detentions at Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka. With fears of Republic Day-style chaos and violence looming in the background, security forces had stepped up deployment within the capital, and farm unions called off protests in U.P. and Uttarakhand.
The call for a chakka jam was given by the joint front of protesting unions, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, which is trying to keep the national movement’s momentum alive after almost two and a half months of camping on Delhi’s borders by tens of thousands of farmers. They are demanding a repeal of three farm reform laws which aim to open up the agricultural marketing sector and bring private investment into farm infrastructure.
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“The real struggle has begun after January 26,” said Punjab Kisan Union president Ruldu Singh Mansa, addressing a late night press conference at the Singhu border.
“Today’s chakka jam was meant to highlight three issues,” said Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal Singh. This included the core demand for repeal of the laws as well as a protest against government and police intimidation, in the form of arrests, missing people, barricades, and the suspension of power, water and Internet services. The third focus was on the cut in the Union budget allocation for agriculture this year.
He also expressed anger at Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s statement in Parliament on Friday. “During the talks, he said he was ready to make changes to remove whatever is problematic in the laws. But yesterday, he said the laws are in the interests of farmers, which is a lie,” he added.
The road blockades seemed to be most extensive in Punjab and Haryana, which have been the prime movers of the agitation so far.
Apart from a blockade at Palwal on the Delhi-Agra Highway by around 2,000 farmers, protesters blocked the major Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Ambala highways as well. Blockades were also laid at two dozen toll plazas in Haryana. Overall, protestors blocked roads in at least 300 locations across Haryana, including 100 places in Hisar district alone, according to Haryana Kisan Sabha vice-president Inderjit Singh. “In a show of their deep anguish over the alleged conspiracy orchestrated by the Central government to discredit and disrupt the ongoing struggle, the people across Haryana took to the roads on Saturday,” he said. Police said no untoward incidents had been reported in the State.
The protest was also peaceful in Punjab where farmers blocked roads and hampered the movement of traffic in Patiala, Moga, Ferozepur, Fazilka, Barnala, Faridkot, Muktsar, Mansa, Bathinda and other districts. Farmers were seen shouting slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government at the Centre, but the crowd at Mohali’s phase-7 road intersection, a prominent protest location, was thinner than during previous farm protests such as the December 8 ‘Bharat bandh’.
In Delhi, where there was no plan for road blockades, a solidarity meeting organised by trade union activists and others was sought to be organised at a park in the Income Tax Office area, which saw high levels of violence and chaos on Republic Day. The police took at least three trade union leaders into preventive custody in the morning, and then detained about 60 protestors at the park itself. There were 50,000 police personnel deployed across the city, with others monitoring social media for harmful rumours, while drones scanned key locations.
Farm unions reported police detentions at Jaura in Madhya Pradesh, near Yelahanka stadium in Bengaluru, and a highway near Hyderabad. About 150 protesting farmers of Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh have also been served with notices by the police, according to an SKM statement.
Blockades were also carried out at 200 locations in Madhya Pradesh, as well as at multiple locations in Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka and Rajasthan, said the SKM. Blockades were also carried out in parts of western Uttar Pradesh, even though the Bharatiya Kisan Union-Tikait had yesterday called off the chakka jam in the State.
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“There was a plan to indulge in violence by people carrying the tricolor and the banner and caps of the Kisan Ekta Morcha,” said BKU leader Rakesh Tikait, explaining that such people had been found among the protestors at Ghazipur.
(With inputs from Vikas Vasudeva in Punjab, Ashok Kumar in Gurugram, and Hemani Bhandari, Jatin Anand and Priscilla Jebaraj in New Delhi)