In Punjab, Farmers Conduct ‘Rehearsal’ Ahead of 'Republic Day Tractor March'

From Amritsar to Jalandhar, Bathinda to Chandigarh, Patiala to Faridkot, preparations and rehearsals for the January 26 tractor march are in full swing.

Jalandhar: Amidst a thick blanket of fog, bone chilling cold and zero visibility, people wake up hearing a common announcement in gurdwaras these days: “Jede bhi veer January 26 de ‘Tractor March’ te jana chaunde ne, oh kirpa karke sade nal sampark karan. Saade bujurg kisan pichle lambe samay to dharne te baithe ne, ayo ral k es itihasik din vich apna yogdan payiye. (All those brothers, who want to take part in the tractor march should contact the gurdwara management. Our elderly farmers have been sitting on protests for the past so many days, let’s join hands to contribute in this historic day.)”

From Amritsar to Jalandhar, Bathinda to Chandigarh, Patiala to Faridkot, all that meets the eyes is either fleets of tractors taking part in protest marches, which are being termed as a ‘rehearsal’, or those heading to Delhi border for the tractor march scheduled for January 26.

Also read: Will Hold ‘Tractor Parade’ in Delhi on Republic Day If Demands Are Not Met: Farmer Unions to Govt

In Amritsar, a large cavalcade of tractors led by Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) left for Delhi on January 12. Another KMSC group plan to leave for Delhi on January 20. Similarly, in Bathinda, BKU (Ekta Ughrahan) led a protest in Bathinda city and another on Bathinda-Chandigarh highway last week, where even locals joined in large numbers.

Farmers are gearing up for the tractor march with special arrangements of diesel tanks, spare parts, tools, mechanics, tarpaulin and even hi-quality music systems to play rustic farmer songs. Many also got their tractors modified with increased engine capacity, iron frames round the tractor and an entirely covered driver’s seat with iron mesh around it.

Photo: Kusum Arora/The Wire

Amarjit Singh Bains, a farmer from Padhiana village in Jalandhar, not only got one of his tractors modified for the tractor march but also sold four tractors and two cars to contribute money for the protest.

“People are asking me that why I have modified my tractor. On November 26, when we were heading to Delhi, Haryana police blocked our way with stones and boulders, used water cannons and tear gas against us but we still led a peaceful protest. So, now when we are heading to Delhi for tractor march again, don’t you think, we should be better equipped and safe? Though the Modi government is defaming us, we will lead a peaceful and disciplined tractor march to ensure that the three black agriculture laws are repealed,” he said.

Another progressive farmer from Hoshiarpur district, who is also the district president of Bharti Kisan Union (Rajewal)- Gurwinder Singh Khangura said that these tractor marches are a rehearsal to mobilise people for the Republic Day tractor march. “We have been conducting tractor march in villages from January 11 onwards and with every passing day, the number of tractors is increasing. Men, women, youth and children are all are eager to take part in the tractor march. So far, we have conducted five tractor marches and the response has been enormous,” he said.

Farmers leading a protest in Hoshiarpur district. Photo: Kusum Arora/The Wire

Khangura also said that though farmers generally know the basic repair work of a tractor, they have made arrangements of spare parts, mobil engine oil, nuts and bolts to handle any crisis during the march. “Our union is ensuring that all old tractors are repaired through generous contributions made by farmers and locals. Also, we have planned to ferry four tractors on one big trolley each, so as to save diesel expenses. On average, a tractor consumes Rs 4,500 diesel for a one side trip from Jalandhar to Delhi and we are planning wisely,” he added.

Interestingly, not just men, even women were also taking part in the march. On January 16, women in Deep Singh Wala village in Faridkot district conducted a tractor march against the three farm laws. Many women from across Punjab have been driving tractors and ferrying other women to Delhi. Apart from this, some village panchayats have also passed resolutions and imposed fines in a bid to ensure that maximum people join the tractor march.

Kirti Kisan Union district president Amarjit Singh Honey from Bhucho Khurd village in Bathinda, shared that their union has recruited 2,500 volunteers for the tractor march on January 26 from the entire state. “Our union would leave for Tikri border with over 400 tractors on January 22 and 23. Such is the response, that I am flooded with calls and messages throughout the day, as people are excited to join the tractor march. This  shows that farmers protest has become a ‘People’s Movement’,” he said.

Interestingly, Honey said that several union members were also reaching Tikri border free of cost by train. “Whether we are three farmers or 300, the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TT) of Punjab Mail train does not charge even a single penny from us. We are getting full support from everybody”, he added.

Also read: A Republic of Protest

Another BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) leader Jagsir Singh Jhumba from Bathinda said that they have planned protests in all seven blocks of Bathinda district, namely Sangat, Bathinda, Maur, Talwandi, Bhagta, Nathana and Rampura Phul on January 20 and 21. “We are waiting for the farmer unions to announce the plan for tractor march and we will move to Delhi accordingly. We would be organising a tractor march in Fazilka, Moga and Barnala too,” he said.

On preparations of tractor march, Doaba Kisan Sangharsh Committee spokesperson Gurpreet Singh Atwal from Chaharke village in Jalandhar said that a gurdwara in Sattowali village had bought a new bus worth Rs 25 lakh to ferry people to Golden Temple, Amritsar some time ago. “Apart from the tractors, we are using this bus to ferry women and children to Singhu border. We would be leaving for Delhi on January 23 with over 500 tractors, cars and jeeps,” he added.

BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) State Secretary Shingara Singh Mann, who is at Tikri border, said that most of the farmers would be reaching Delhi on January 21/22 for the Republic Day tractor march. He said that the Sanjha Kisan Morcha will decide on how to carry the tractor march and inform people accordingly. “We have appealed to the farmer unions to lead a peaceful and disciplined march. We know that how Modi government and its supporters have been defaming farmers and everybody should remain cautious,” he added.

Notably, last week, senior farmer union leader Balbir Singh Rajewal had written an open letter to farmers in Punjabi, urging farmers and locals to be aware of ‘rumours’ ahead of the Republic Day tractor march in Delhi. Even farmers were creating awareness among peers through WhatsApp groups about rumours being spread against the tractor march on January 26.