Over 1,500 vehicles, including about 1,300 tractor-trolleys, from nearly 1,000 villages in seven districts. This is the size of a new convoy of protesters from Punjab that is expected to reach the Delhi border over the weekend, according to the Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Committee (KMSC), which launched the first major protest in the state against the Centre’s farm laws with the rail blockade from September-end.
KMSC leaders told The Indian Express that the convoy, in multiple groups, will replace the first batch of protesters that reached the border along Kundli on 100 tractor-trollers two weeks ago.
“There is a huge gathering already at Delhi’s borders, but we will find a way. If we don’t get space, we will stop wherever we can. Besides, we already have a stage at Kundli. We will replace those already there, who will return home,” said Satnam Singh Pannu, president, KMSC.
“The convoy has protesters from Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Taran Taran, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Ferozepur and Moga. Coordinating with each other, they gathered at Doraha in Ludhiana on National Highway 1 at about 5 pm. They will move ahead in smaller groups so that the highway doesn’t get congested,” said Pannu, who is from Piddi village in Gurdaspur.
KMSC leaders estimated that the convoy is carrying about 30,000 protesters on tractor-trolleys, with another 1,000 in cars. District officials said they were not keeping a count of protesters and vehicles headed to Delhi.
Baljinder Singh Sandhu, KMSC press secretary, said the new convoy will dig in for the long haul. “We are going with rations, quilts, clothes, LPG cylinders, buckets, etc. Our trolleys are covered with waterproof sheets and we are prepared for the adverse weather expected in Delhi,” said Sandhu, who is from Talwandi Nepalan village in Ferozepur.
Pannu said the convoy will stop over at Shahbad Markanda in Haryana before the first batch reaches the Delhi border by Saturday afternoon. “This journey is unstoppable now. The Centre should have listened to us in June-July. Ab Delhi dur nahin (Now Delhi is not far),” said Pannu.
The Indian Express spoke to several protesters from the convoy, who described the agitation as a “fight to keep private companies away” from their land.
“I am a small farmer with 3 acres of land. My father passed away a few years ago, and my two brothers farm on their share of the land. The farm laws are a death warrant for us. What if contract farming by private companies ultimately turns me into an employee on their land? That’s why I am going to lodge my protest in Delhi,” said Amandeep Singh, 31, from Kachhar Bhana village of Ferozepur.
“What if these fields will not remain mine? I have to fight for myself and my future generations. The fields are our mother. The farmer has a lot of affection for his land. These laws are not good,” said Dharam Singh Sidhu, from Lalcheeian village in Ferozepur.
With police deployment minimal, state government officials said they would not prevent the movement of farmers. “We are not keeping any check on the movement of tractors. The Constitution of India allows free movement of people anywhere in the country,” said a senior official in Ludhiana.
“The movement of tractors is routine now. Many people go and many come back as well,” said a senior police officer.