New Delhi: India woke up on Friday with farmers up in arms across the nation against the contentious agri Bills passed in the monsoon session of Parliament.
While Punjab and Haryana took the lead, no other state could match their spirit. In fact, in Karnataka farmers protests elicited lukewarm responses. In Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh, police and paramilitary forces were ready to deal with any eventuality at the borders.
However, so far it has been peaceful.
In the bread basket states of Punjab and Haryana emotions ran high. Cutting across party lines, the day-long statewide protests by farmers evoked a huge response and normal life was disrupted. Chandigarh though was near normal.
The activists of several farmer associations were seen asking traders at many places in the Congress-ruled Punjab to keep their shops and business establishments shut to mark the pan-India protest.
Reports of shutdown of shops and other establishments were received from Punjab's Patiala, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Moga, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar and other places. Northern Railway cancelled three trains and curtailed the routes of 20 special trains, officials said on Friday.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) President Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is still technically an ally of the ruling BJP at the Centre, has demanded that the whole of Punjab should be declared a 'principal market yard' for agricultural produce to ensure that laws based on the three passed agricultural Bills do not apply in the northern state.
"This is the best, the quickest and the most effective way for Punjab to pre-empt the application of the Centre's latest anti-farmer Bills in the state because these will not apply to 'principal market yards' declared by any state government. Therefore, the Punjab government must act without delay," the SAD leader said in a strongly worded statement.
However, the same cannot be said about the rest of India. In poll-bound Bihar, though Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav led a tractor rally on Patna roads, public participation was hardly visible as it was in Punjab and parts of Haryana.
A procession of around 50 tractors followed the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, with his party supporters shouting slogans against the NDA government over the Bills. The protesters, without following social distancing norms, were headed towards the Governor's House when a posse of police briefly stopped them for security reasons. They were, however, allowed to proceed towards Bailey Road.
In West Bengal, members of farmers' bodies belonging to the Left parties and the ruling Trinamool Congress staged sporadic protests in various parts of the state demanding withdrawal of the "anti-people" farm bills passed in Parliament.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) farmers wing 'Sara Bharat Krishak Sabha' and Trinamool-backed Kisaan Khet Mazdoor cell activists took out rallies, held sit-in demonstrations and set the farm bills on fire in Kolkata. CPI-M students wing SFI activists also staged a road blockade in front of Kolkata's prestigious Jadavpur University in the afternoon protesting against the farm bills.
In Uttar Pradesh, farmers protesting against the agri bills passed in parliament earlier this week, blocked the Ayodhya-Lucknow highway for a few hours on Friday. The protesters also burnt stubble in the middle of the road and shouted slogans against the Centre, demanding withdrawal of the bills. Farmers also blocked the Delhi-Meerut highway near Ghaziabad to protest against the bills. Farmers from the Lakhimpur Kheri district have also gathered in protest. Protests have also been reported from many districts in Uttar Pradesh, including Pilibhit, Sambhal, Ghaziabad, Sitapur, Baghpat and Barabanki.
In Maharashtra, farmers protested in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik, Nandurbar, Jalna, Beed, Aurangabad, Nanded, Yavatmal and Buldhana.
Members of the Karnataka State Farmers' Association on Friday held protests at various places against the three farm Bills, however, they elicited only a lukewarm response.
While farmer leader Kuruburu Shantakumar said that there are as many as 60 entry points across Bengaluru, lack of unanimity among farmers associations came to the fore when another prominent farmer leader Kodihalli Chandrashekhar asserted that their group did not support Friday's protest.
In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the protests were not even half as emphatic as in Punjab or Haryana. Led by Tamil Nadu Farmers' Association President P. Ayyakannu, half-clad farmers held their protest outside the Collectorate in Trichy while carrying human skulls in their hands. They demanded that the Bills should not be made into law. Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister R. Doraikkannu said the Bills will not impact the farmers in Tamil Nadu.
However, amid nationwide farmer protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted on Friday that, "Small and marginal farmers, who constitute 86 per cent of those involved in agriculture, will benefit the most from agricultural reforms and the new laws."
The protests are largely against three bills that were recently passed by Parliament in its monsoon session — The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.