Protesting farmer unions are readying for a nationwide chakka jam on Saturday, February 6. The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, which represents over 40 farmer unions, has given a call for all roads and national highways to be blocked throughout the nation except Delhi.
The latest move is in response to the Centre’s handling of the prolonged agitation, budgetary allocation, and the contentious farm laws.
Standing firm on their demand for a complete repeal of the laws, farmers continue to camp at Delhi borders, including at Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri, in spite of heavy and unprecedented fortification. On orders of the Union home ministry, internet has intermittently been cut off as well.
The ebbs and flows of the movement have attracted global attention, been chalked up to “propaganda” by pro-government actors, and hailed as a revolutionary spectre in India’s history by pro-farmer groups.
What is the chakka jam about?
The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s road block call was given on Monday, February 1, after the announcement of Union Budget 2021. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had claimed that the Budget should clear doubts on the contentious agriculture ‘reforms’ and encouraged leaders to look at it “positively”. Protesting leaders, however, expressed concern over the slashing of budget for agriculture and allied sectors – from Rs 1.54 lakh crore in 2020-21 to Rs 1.48 lakh crore in this fiscal year.
Farmer leader Darshan Pal noted that the jam is in opposition to the three farm laws, the government’s repressive measures against protesters – including the internet shutdown, ‘illegal’ arrests and the repression of journalists – and the reduction of budgetary allocations to the farm sector.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has already extended the suspension of internet services at the farmer protest sites in Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders till Tuesday night. Internet services were also temporary suspended in some parts of Delhi on January 26, when large scale violence was reported during the farmers’ tractor rally.
“Our February 6 protest would also be against this harassment faced by journalists who are trying to report the truth from the ground and the Twitter restrictions,” Balbir Singh Rajewal, a noted farmer leader from Punjab, and part of the SKM said.
Earlier this week, Twitter accounts of over hundred people reporting and commenting on the farmers’ movement were withheld (and restored eventually) citing “legal” demands made by the government authorities. Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav alleged the action against the Twitter account was taken on the “request of government authorities”, adding accounts of some private individuals, who have been very vocal against the movement, had also been restricted.
On Friday, Twitter again suspended or withheld the accounts of some users commenting on the farmers’ stir. At least three accounts — Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s official IT cell Kisan Ekta Morcha, Tractor2Twitter and BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) — are among those suspended. The fresh suspension comes after the IT ministry’s warning, threatening a legal notice if Twitter failed to comply with its directives.
Farmer leaders are expected to meet today to discuss the preparations for tomorrow’s protest.
What will happen during the jam?
Highways and roads will be blocked between noon and 3 pm, farmer union leaders said at a press conference. The rally is to take place in the afternoon so as to not inconvenience daily commuters.
Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Rakesh Tikait clarified that the blockade will not take place in Delhi, but will be carried out in other parts of the National Capital Region (NCR). This includes parts of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, along with other 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 said.
Vehicles participating in the blockade will be offered water and food, he said. “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 leader noted.
Who is participating, who is not?
The jam is expected to be observed by unions under the SKM. The RSS-affiliated farmers’ body, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), said that they would not support the chakka jaam, alleging that the protests had become “political propaganda.”
“Now, the protest at all the borders of Delhi is very much political and it is clearly visible that this has become political propaganda,” BKS general secretery Badri Narayan Choudhary said to the news agency ANI.
Travel restrictions, security beefed up
As Ghazipur border emerges as the new focal point of farmers’ unrest, police have beefed up security at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh route. The Delhi police placed iron nails, concrete barriers and barbed fences on the other borders with Delhi including Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders.
In the national capital, the Delhi Police have erected multi-layer barricades, concertina wires, spikes on roads, along with parking buses on streets to restrict the movement of protesters as opposition continues to swell at farmers’ protest sites. Police and other paramilitary forces have been deployed in large numbers in the wake of Republic Day clashes. Drones have also been deployed to monitor the protesters.
Barricades with pointed spikes have also been placed at both of the main Delhi-Noida borders, namely the Chilla border and DND flyover.
However, Tikait said, “The farmers will pull out all iron nails of the government, and also pull out those fixed at protest sites one by one.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Deepak Yadav had earlier said that the iron nails studded on roads have been “repositioned”, referring to images from Singhu border on Monday where workers were seen hooking iron rods between two rows of cement barriers on a flank of the main highway to put up a makeshift wall, to further restrict the movement of protesters.
Balbir SinghRajewal further claimed that trains were being diverted to prevent farmers from reaching the protest sites in the national capital from neighbouring states.