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Friday, February 26, 2021

The flag march

As support for the agriculturists and their movement swell up in Punjab, many have started selling and putting up flags of the farmers’ unions — often procured illegally — at their establishments and vehicles, raising misuse worries.

Written by Divya Goyal | Chandigarh, Ludhiana |
Updated: January 25, 2021 10:51:49 pm
Jagdish Chand, who owns car repair workshop and a toy shop on Banga-Phagwara road, has now also started selling flags due to high demand. (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal) 

As he sits peeling kinnow to make fresh juice for commuters on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana road, a white-green flag, tied to a corner of Raj Kumar’s roadside vend flutters in the wind. The insignia and the words on the flag – ‘Bharatiya Kisan Union: Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad’ – have become synonymous with the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the three central agri laws.

Kumar’s father Darshan Lal, a farmer, is in Delhi at the protest site for the last seven days. Kumar says putting up the flag at his juice vend is the least he could do extend support to his father and other farmers taking part in the protests at the Delhi border.

“We have sown wheat on three acres in our village. Jeh eh kanoon waapis na laye gaye taan saade varge garbeeb kisaan maare jaange (If these laws aren’t rolled back, small farmers like us will die),” said Kumar.

Kinnow juice vendor Raj Kumar on Chandigarh-Ludhiana road via Kurali, with a flag supporting farmers’ agitation at his vend. (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal) 

On nearly 100-kilometer route from Chandigarh to Ludhiana, flags, stickers and banners supporting farmers’ agitation, in shades of yellows, greens, white, black, are visible almost everywhere – at vends, outside shops, on the rooftops of the houses, in the fields by the highway, and on the vehicles – not just the tractors and trolley, but also private vehicles such as cars, motorbikes, SUVs. The number of vehicles with such flags and stickers have swollen up ahead of the farmers’ tractor parade in Delhi on Republic Day.

While some flags are specific to unions and carry their names such as ‘BKU Ekta Ugrahan’ or BKU Dakaunda, others have slogans such as ‘Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad’, ‘No Farmer, No Food’ printed on them.

“This protest is no more of the farmers alone. It has given birth to a commoners movement with everyone trying to show their support for farmers by putting up these flags and stickers, most of them without even getting into union politics,” said a traffic police official, on the naaka duty in Ludhiana.

SUV with flags supporting farmers agitation on Chandigarh-Ludhiana road via Kurali. (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal) 

However, with such flags cropping up in every nook and corner in Punjab, what has left unions and police worried is their misuse. Farmer union leaders admit that some anti-social elements have started misusing their flags for indulging in traffic rule violation to smuggling liquor, or even transporting sand illegally. To keep a check, the unions have started conducting block level and village level meetings to direct their activists that flags should not be distributed without checking credentials of the persons.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), said they are distributing their union’s flag with logo for Rs 30 per piece, but only after verifying the credentials of the persons. He said that some cases of persons misusing flags of their union have come to fore.

“In Moga district’s Dharamkot area, some people had put up our union’s flag on tractor-trolleys in which they were transporting illegally mined sand. They did it to evade police. Our activists got to know about it and got the flags removed,” he said.

Kokrikalan said that due to high demand, some printing presses have started manufacturing the unions’ flags illegally and selling them for Rs 100-200 per piece. “Recently, we busted one such printing press in Khanna which was printing and selling BKU Ekta Ugrahan’s flags illegally without our permission. We got a written apology letter from that press’ owner and recovered our flags. If he repeats the act, we will get an FIR registered,” said Kokrikalan, adding that “one of our activists also received a call from Delhi that a youth from Punjab was found smuggling 10 boxes of illicit liquor in his vehicle that sported our union’s flag”.

He said the union leaders have received complaints of flag misuse from almost districts such as Ludhiana, Moga, and Barnala. “We have instructed our workers to issue warnings to those misusing flags and if they do not deter, get police complaints registered against them. Our union also passed a resolution to ensure that our flag is not misused”.

Kokrikalan said that his union has already sold nearly 5 lakh flags for Rs 30 each and, “due to high demand from Delhi”, have placed an order for getting printed another 1.50 lakh flags.

He said that while flags which are officially printed by the unions, carry their names and logos, the others carrying only slogans too are being sold and distributed.

“The Congress party got flags distributed in villages with ‘Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad’ written on them. Others who want to support farmers but not any particular union, are also using flags and stickers with only slogans on them,” he said

Jagmohan Singh, general secretary BKU (Dakaunda), said that they were aware of the union flags being ‘misused’ by anti-social elements and all ‘precautions’ are being taken. “We are giving our union flags officially for Rs 30 per piece but not to everyone. We have instructed our teams on the ground to check credentials of the persons before giving them flags,” he said.

Harinder Singh, general secretary, BKU (Lakhowal), too said that are issuing flags only after ensuring that people taking them are genuine protesters. “A union’s name and pride are always associated with their flag and if it is misused in the disguise of agitation, it hits our credibility,” he said, adding his union was not charging any money for the flags.

While accepting the fact the unions’ flags are being used by some people, Jhanda Singh Jethuke, senior vice-president, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), however, said they can’t stop giving flags to those who are supporting the agitation. “With protests ongoing at Delhi borders, we have to be a bit liberal and give flags to those supporting us. For instance, we gave flags to those who are providing langar and milk to farmers at the Delhi borders,” said Jethuke.

Those using the flags and stickers, meanwhile, claim that they will never misuse them. “My father is a farmer who sows wheat on 3 acres of his land. Those associated with farming in any way will never misuse these flags.. it is now a people’s movement,” said Sukhwinder Singh (30), who is a lab technician and a property dealer. His car flaunts a sticker that reads: “Support Farmers- No Farmers, No Food”.

The “flag movement” has come as a boon for roadside shop owners like Jagdish Chand, who run a car repair workshop and a toy shop on Phagwara-Banga road. “I started selling the flags supporting farmers due to high demand. I even got got them printed on my own. We sell them for Rs 200-300 each. Till now I have sold almost 700-800 of them,” Chand said, adding his best sellers are yellow flags with slogan ‘Main kisaan haan, attwadi nai (I am a farmer, not a terrorist)’ and black flags with ‘rosh (fury/anger)’ written on them.

Meanwhile, police claim that ahead of Republic Day, all vehicles are being checked irrespective of them carrying or not carrying farm union flags.

Charanjit Singh, SSP Ludhiana (rural) said, “We are checking all vehicles. Having a flag on the vehicle supporting farmers doesn’t mean it is exempted from checking.”

However, a senior Punjab Police official, accepted that it was no easy task. “The situation is very tense and the topic is too sensitive. No police official wants to get into any controversy but efforts are being made to ensure that law and order isn’t compromised by anti-social elements in disguise of supporting farmers.”

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