Going firm on their demand for repeal of the new agri laws, hundreds of farmers spent another night in the cold and withstood spells of drizzle on Thursday at Ghazipur, their heavily-secured protest site at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait, leading the stir in Ghazipur since November with his supporters, said the movement at Delhi’s outskirts could continue till October this year and would be supported by villagers.
He also took a veiled jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the fortification of the protest sites at Ghazipur, Tikri and Singhu as he shared with the press the details of the proposed February 6 “chakka jam” (blockading of roads as a form of protest).
He said the blockade will not be done in Delhi but will take place in other parts of the National Capital Region, which comprises parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, and the rest of country including the southern states.
“Dilli mein hum nahi kar rahe, wahan to raja ne khud qile-bandi kar li hai humare jaam karne ki zaroorat hi nahi hai (We are not going to do anything in Delhi, the king there has already fortified it, there is no need for us to do a blockade now),” he told reporters in Ghazipur.
On the proposed “chakka jam“, he said, “There will be a three-hour blockade on roads. It won’t happen in Delhi but other parts of the country. The vehicles which will come and stop will be given water and food. Items like “chana” and peanuts will also be distributed to these people and we will apprise them of what the government is doing with us.”
The influential farmer leader, credited with reviving the farmers’ protest after a brief lull following the January 26 violence, said the movement for the repeal of the contentious laws could continue till October.
“The framework for furthering the movement is being in villages. Two tractors will come from villages and they will stay here for five days. Then they will leave and other two tractors replace them,” he said, replying to a volley of questions by the press.
About the stringent security measures and road blockades at Ghazipur, he said the Delhi Police should rather be asked about it as they have done it.
“The farmers will pull out all iron nails of the government, and also pull out those fixed at protest sites one by one,” he said, on the police repositioning iron nails at the protest sites.
On further talks between the farmers and the government to break the impasse, Mr Tikait said that decision will be taken by the committee of the farmers unions.
Mr Tikait, who has maintained that the ongoing protests are apolitical despite Opposition political parties reaching protest sites, said politicians visiting Ghazipur are “not doing it as part of any agenda” but only to know about the farmers.
Asked about the protestors being dubbed as “Khalistanis” and “anti-national” by some people, the BKU national spokesperson said these charges are a “thing of the past” and it was time for everyone to “move on”.
Meanwhile, many farmers camped in temporary tarpaulin-roofed shelters that have come up on a stretch of the Delhi-Meerut highway, while many had their tractor-trailers double up as their resting place and scores stretched out on mattresses put on the key road that until November had thousands of vehicles passing through daily.
The protesters withstood the cold conditions of the night and the morning drizzle, but spells of rain towards the evening brought down their numbers at Ghazipur.
The Ghaziabad police officials estimated a crowd size of 2,000 to 3,000 in Ghazipur during the day.
Police and paramilitary forces, deployed in large numbers here in the wake of the Republic Day furore, remained on the ground while multi-layered barricades and concertina wires remained in place along with iron nails studded on roads to prevent any movement towards Delhi.
Iron nails, which were studded on the roads around the protest site, were being removed, a move that drew jibes from protesters against the stringent security measures, even as Delhi Police officials said the spikes were just being “repositioned”.
“The way they are taking the nails off, they will repeal the laws also,” a man from a group of protesters at the Uttar Pradesh Gate (Ghazipur) told a television news channel.
Delhi Police’s Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Deepak Yadav asserted that the security arrangements at the border will remain the same.
“Videos and photos are getting circulated in which it is shown that nails are being taken off at Ghazipur. These are just being repositioned. Security arrangement at the border remains the same,” he said.