New Delhi: While the number of protesters at various sites in Haryana, including its Tikri and Kundli borders with Delhi, may have dipped due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, farmer leaders across the state insist that the agitation against the three farm laws is on and would be intensified once the pandemic subsides. Moreover, with over six months passing since the protests started, they caution that the protesting farmers have now started getting restless as the Centre and the state government have been ignoring their demands.
With there being a slight dip in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state, the farmers’ agitation has again started picking up. Over the past fortnight, there have been at least three instances of farmers resorting to direct action and trying to stall the movement of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) leaders and legislators.
Khattar, MLAs targeted again
Last month, the farmers had tried to stop chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar from reaching a COVID-19 care centre at Hisar for its inauguration. In January this year too, Khattar had faced strong protests in Karnal, where farmers prevented his helicopter from landing. This time, however, the police prevented them from reaching close to the COVID-19 centre in Hisar and by the time some of them reached there, after breaking the police cordon, Khattar had left.
Over the past six months or so, the farmers have also taken to protesting near the residences of BJP and JJP legislators in a bid to force the latter to walk out of the coalition government. A couple of months ago, they had blocked the way of JJP leader and deputy CM Dushyant Chautala while he was on his way from the Hisar airport to his residence. Finally, Chautala had to take a chopper to land near his home.
The past fortnight has seen the farmers again adopt a similar strategy towards BJP and JJP legislators. First, they showed black flags and surrounded wrestler-turned-MLA Babita Phogat of the BJP in Charkhi Dadri. And then a couple of days ago, the farmers surrounded the vehicle of Tohana’s JJP MLA Devender Babli when he reached the constituency.
FIR filed against protesting farmers at MLA’s behest
Babli had an altercation with the protesting farmers and even came out of his vehicle to confront them. He claimed that the protesters abused his family members and attacked and shattered the glass panes of his vehicle, and caused injuries to his personal assistant in the process. Subsequently, an FIR was also registered on his complaint.
Babli later also appealed to Khattar and Chautala to resolve the farmers’ issue expeditiously. He termed the incident unfortunate, saying the state of affairs in the state had come to a situation where “a handful of people can attack a public representative who has won with lakhs of votes”.
Minister says violence will not be tolerated
Following the incident, Haryana home minister Anil Vij warned the protesting farmers that violence will not be tolerated. Giving his reaction following the Babli episode, Vij said the farmers had the right to protest, to show black flags and banners, but from a distance of 200 metres.
He said no one has the right to disrupt another person’s programme or to prevent them from attending one. Likewise, he said, there could be no justification for not allowing a political leader to reach his home or to visit some patients in a hospital.
The minister said every aspect of the incident involving Babli was recorded in the FIR and strict action would be taken against the culprits. “We will not let anyone take the law into their own hands,” Vij added.
Farmer leaders insist government trying to malign them
Meanwhile, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Gurnam Singh Charuni was quoted as saying that the protesters would continue to follow the BJP and JJP leaders wherever they will go. He also claimed that the patience of the protesters was wearing thin as the Centre has been ignoring their demand for repeal of the three contentious laws.
Charuni said the protests had not lost their intensity but had only become less visible since the political leaders had for some time stopped organising public events. But now, he said, along with the increased visits there also appeared to be a change in the strategy of the ruling coalition. “They are now creating mischief through anti-social elements and trying to malign us,” he claimed.
The farmer leaders are now also accusing the Haryana government and its functionaries of using the COVID-19 pandemic to create confusion in the minds of farmers that the agitation has died down.
‘Farmers will return once Covid cases fall’
Darshan Pal of the All India Kisan Union said the low presence of farmers at the protest sites was only because the leaders were not giving out a call to them to assemble in view of the COVID-19 cases. The enthusiasm, he insisted, was still intact and millions would gather at Delhi’s borders if a call was given out.
Incidentally, in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, Khattar had last month issued an appeal to all the protesters to suspend their agitation. He had also charged that the protests had turned several villages into coronavirus hotspots.
However, before his appeal, several villages had already decided to suspend the agitation. A case in point being the Chautala village in Sirsa district. Here in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, a decision was taken on May 2 to temporarily call off the stir for some time.
This ancestral village of the Chautala family has been among the worst-affected villages due to the pandemic, with over 40 people dying there last month alone. While earlier, four to five people from almost every family there was going to attend the protests at Delhi’s borders, an appeal was made last month to suspend the agitation as the number of cases rose sharply, putting enormous pressure on the limited health infrastructure in the district.
With 16 deaths taking place in a single day, the “high risk” village decided to suspend the agitation for some time. The protest on the state highway near the village was also called off temporarily.
However, local farmer leaders have been quoted as saying recently that this was only a temporary phase. One of them, Manphool Singh of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, said it was only a matter of time before protests are held actively once more.