Delhi Police closed the Signature Bridge over the Yamuna on Monday night after tractors tried to enter the capital from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
Farmers on hundreds of tractors from Baghpat were “threatening” to enter Delhi at the Loni border, said Iraj Raja, SP (Rural) Ghaziabad.
“They are directionless and leaderless. They want to go to Red Fort. They were told to take the prescribed route via the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal expressway to reach the Ghazipur border but they refused and are misbehaving with the police. They are using abusive language and are agitated,” Mr Raja said, adding that extra forces had been called in. “The orders are to be as patient with them as possible but right now they are refusing to listen,” he said.
Protesting farmer unions had received permission to hold tractor parades in three border areas of Delhi along three pre-determined routes, with strict conditions specifying the number of tractors and that they would not enter the capital until noon, after the official Republic Day parade on Rajpath had been completed.
Dharmendra Malik, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union said both the U.P. and Delhi Police were trying to instigate farmers to turn violent.
“Those coming from Baghpat to Ghazipur border had to either pass via Delhi or take the Bhopura route in Ghaziabad to reach the U.P. Gate. But both routes have been blocked by the police and farmers are being told to go back 40-50 km and enter through the KMP Expressway. It is impractical and a way to needle farmers at night. We are trying to negotiate with the administration,” he said.
Earlier in the day, a Punjab union, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Committee (KMSC), declared its intention to defy the police conditions by heading for Delhi’s Outer Ring Road, instead of the approved routes. The group, which had previously defied directions to lift a rail roko in Punjab, said it would not take any decisions “under pressure from the government”. Leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which is representing a coalition of thousands of farmers protesting on Delhi’s borders, sent multiple delegations to the KMSC leadership, pleading with them to change their plans for the sake of the whole movement.
The SKM has also announced a Sansad march to Parliament on February 1, the day when the Union Budget will be presented, as the next phase of its protest, keeping up the momentum from Republic Day.
Tuesday’s rallies are expected to attract 1.5 lakh tractors, and will display the extent of support for the farmers’ demands, not just in Punjab and Haryana but from across the country, said Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal. “Seeing this enthusiasm, especially from the youth, we have decided to announce our next programme now. We will march towards Parliament from different locations on Budget Day,” he said.
Balbir Singh Rajewal, who heads a faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said the Sansad March would be undertaken on foot, and would only be the beginning of programmes planned during the upcoming session of Parliament.
“After we march round the route on Republic Day, no one will go home. Those who have come from Punjab, Haryana, U.P., Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, as well as those who have come from Odisha or other faraway place — we will not go home until the government listens to our demands and repeals the three laws,” said Mr. Rajewal.
Protesting farmers are demanding that three new agricultural reform laws be repealed, and that a new law be enacted to guarantee remunerative prices for farm produce. As they enter the capital for the first time on Tuesday, union leaders say they are determined to keep the protest peaceful, but may be stymied by conditions announced by the Delhi Police on Monday evening.
The No Objection Certificate for the tractor parades, issued by Delhi Police, has 37 conditions, including one on the numbers of participants. “The organisers shall keep the limit of gathering of participants in rally to 5000 persons along with 5000 tractors,” it said. The Police added that movement of the procession must not stop, must not take more than two-thirds of the carriageway, and must flow in one direction only. The prescribed time period is from noon to 5 p.m. only. Non-compliance to these conditions could result in termination of the NOC, it warned.
Union leaders say the participant limit is not practical. “Throughout the negotiations with the police, it was made clear that there is no way the numbers can be limited. There is no way to tell farmers that you are the chosen 5,000 or even 10,000,” said Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch leader Kavitha Kuruganti, who is part of the team coordinating the parades. An SKM spokesperson estimated that apart from 1.5 lakh tractors, 50,000 other vehicles are expected to participate. Up to five farmers are being allowed to ride on each tractor. “There is no limit of vehicles nor time bounds of this march,” claimed an SKM statement.
“The farmers protest has been peaceful so far, and will continue to be peaceful. If there is any disturbance, it will not come from our side. We are determined to win, so we must stay peaceful,” emphasised Mr. Rajewal, noting that farmers have already handed over to the police several “troublemakers”, including a youth found with a revolver at Tikri.
More than 2,500 volunteers will be on hand along the parade routes, to ensure traffic control, medical support and provide food and water to those who need it. A number of tableaux, floats and banners have been prepared, depicting the culture of different States and the demands of the farmers’ protest as well as celebrating women farmers and farmers movements of the past. Although political party flags are not being permitted, some floats seemed to carry sharp socio-political messages, speaking up for oppressed Dalits, or critiquing the policies of the World Bank and IMF.
“Never before in history have the people of this Republic been part of a parade of this nature on the Republic Day. Through this parade, we have to tell the country and the world about our plight,” said an SKM statement appealing to protesting farmers to follow strict instructions. “Remember that our aim is not to conquer Delhi, but to win over the hearts of the people of this country.”
(with inputs from Vikas Vasudeva in Chandigarh and Saurabh Trivedi in Delhi)