For the first time since the vandalism at Red Fort on January 26, a small group from among the farmers camping at Delhi’s borders were allowed to enter the city to commence a protest at Jantar Mantar on Thursday.
Outside Parliament, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that if farmer unions pointed out their objections to the provisions of the three farm laws they were protesting against, the government would be ready to discuss them with an “open mind”.
“The whole country knows that the agriculture reform laws are in the interest of farmers, beneficial for the farmers, providing options to the farmers, increasing their income and freeing them from legal clutches,” Tomar, who was the lead negotiator for the government in 11 rounds of unsuccessful talks with the protesters, told reporters.
“As far as the farmer unions’ movement is concerned, the government has discussed with them with utmost sensitivity. On which provision of the bills, they have objection; if they point out the objection, even today the government is ready to discuss with them with an open mind,” Tomar said.
On Thursday morning, 200 farmers left their protest site at Singhu border in North Delhi in five buses and a few private vehicles for Jantar Mantar. The party included farmers who have been protesting at Ghazipur in East Delhi and Tikri border in Southwest Delhi, and who had arrived at Singhu earlier.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at Delhi’s borders since November 26, 2020, demanding the repeal of The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
On Wednesday, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal had granted permission to the farmers to hold a demonstration at Jantar Mantar. However, with large gatherings not allowed due to Covid restrictions, only 200 farmers were permitted to gather.
The first van carrying the farmers reached the heavily barricaded protest site around 11.50 am. The other vehicles arrived over the next hour.
In speeches made under a neem tree, the farmer leaders expressed confidence that now they were “one step closer” to Parliament, their voice would finally reach lawmakers. Slogans such as “Kisan Ekta Zindabad”, “Humaari maange poori karo”, and “Sadda Haqq, Aithe Rakh” were raised.
BKU’s Rakesh Tikait, who has been leading the protest at the Ghazipur border, said, “The distance between us and Parliament is reducing, we are just a few hundred metres away now. Two hundred farmers will come to the sangat under this tree…, this will be a historic tree.”
Jose Kanasera, a farmer from Calicut, said: “We wanted to come here and show our strength… My family is protesting back at home with members of Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh. We will protest here for the entire duration of the Monsoon Session so that the government repeals these laws.”
Shiv Kumar Kakka of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh said: “Although our aim was to protest at Parliament, we are happy to be here to present our case. We want the people and authorities in Delhi to see us. We have been ignored for months. We are not terrorists…”
Most leaders complained of heavy police checking of their vehicles. Hundreds of police personnel were deployed in several parts of the city as part of an elaborate bandobast. At Jantar Mantar, Sansad Marg, Janpath, Tolstoy Marg, and across Connaught Place, Delhi Police personnel were joined by the CRPF and other paramilitary forces.
Deepak Yadav, DCP (New Delhi) said more than 5,000 senior officers and personnel were deployed at Jantar Mantar.
At 2 pm, the farmers broke for lunch. Langar for around 300 people had been organised by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.
Most of those who were at Jantar Mantar on Thursday, have been camping at the border for over eight months. Each protester wore an ID card with a number from 1-200 and “Sansad March, July 22”, written on it, along with their name, phone number and address.
As the sky grew darker, the farmers sang the national anthem under the tree. Volunteers then guided them back to their vehicles, and they left for Singhu. The protest would continue on Friday, they said.
With inputs from ENS, New Delhi
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