Over 25 cr join nationwide strike against Centre's farm, labour laws; farmers face tear gas, water cannons on march to Delhi
While tension prevailed in Delhi and Haryana as farmers marched to the National Capital, states like Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Puducherry, Assam, and Telangana witnessed a complete shutdown on Thursday
Over 25 crore people, including farmers, joined a nationwide strike against the Centre's labour and farm laws. The strike, called by a joint platform of 10 central trade unions, was also aimed at drawing attention to a slew of workers' demands.
While tension prevailed in Delhi and Haryana as farmers marched to the National Capital, states like Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Puducherry, Assam, and Telangana witnessed a complete shut down on Thursday.
The 'Dilli Chalo' protest has been planned by farmer groups from states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala, and Punjab for the last two months, NDTV reported.
Punjab farmers face water cannons at Haryana border
Farmers from Punjab faced water cannons and tear gas and broke police barriers at the state's border with Haryana as they pushed towards Delhi. At the Shambhu border, the Punjab protesters traveling on tractors and trolleys had a face-off with the Haryana Police on a bridge over the Ghaggar River.
Police made announcements on loudspeakers to ask the farmers assembled on the Punjab side of the interstate border to disperse. As smoke from teargas shells clouded the air as security personnel milled around them. People could be seen standing on top of trucks.
The Haryana Police had blocked the Amritsar-Delhi highway at this border point with parked trucks to stop the farmers' tractor-trolleys, some of them laden with food. Farmers chucked some barricades into the river. They were also seen pushing the trucks.
Boulders, barricades, and trucks were also placed at other border points with Punjab, the Congress-ruled state which is backing the farmers' cause.
Our farmers right to peacefully protest has become punishable with water cannons & police deployments under @BJP4India's rule!Misleading & cheating them since 6yrs,this govt is now resorting to force against them-this is BJP's way of celebrating #ConstitutionDay!#FarmersProtest pic.twitter.com/qTvaPUh6rN
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) November 26, 2020
A few protesters initially managed to cross the barricades on foot. Later, police eased the blockade, allowing the protesters and their tractors to proceed on the road to Delhi, 200 kilometres away.
But police barricades were also set up at other points on the highway as protesters passed through BJP-run Haryana. At Karnal, there was another face-off with the Haryana Police.
The Delhi Police has beefed up security at its border with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, in case the protesting farmers make it that far.
In the afternoon, Punjab protesters who had entered Haryana from other border points too were travelling towards Delhi. Large groups of farmers from Haryana itself were also on the move towards the National Capital.
"It is condemnable that Haryana Police is using such measures to suppress an assembly of peaceful protesters. We are protesting in a peaceful manner, but they want to prevent us from using our democratic right to protest," a Punjab farmer told reporters at Shambhu.
Apart from Shambhu, police used water cannons against protesters trying to enter Kaithal district, and at Khanauri border where farmers are protesting under the banner of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugarhan). Union president Joginder Singh said they will hold a peaceful protest there for seven days.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal condemned the Haryana Police action at Shambhu border.
In Gurgaon, Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav and a group of protesting farmers were detained by police as they tried to march towards Delhi. Yadav slammed the BJP governments in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh "for trying to crush peaceful protests led by farmers, not political parties".
He was quoted by NDTV as saying, "Three lakh farmers are marching... the number shows the extent of anger (against the laws). Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala claims to be a farmers' representative. The least he can do is step down and apologise to the farmers."
In addition to Yadav, activist Medha Patkar and farmers attempting to enter Uttar Pradesh from Rajasthan were detained by Uttar Pradesh Police, the report added.
The Delhi Police on Wednesday said it has denied permission to farmer organisations which wanted to protest in the National Capital on 26 and 27 November.
Earlier on Thursday, there were some demonstrations at Delhi's border with Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, and traffic jams at the Gurgaon border.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC have been imposed in several parts of Haryana to prevent assembly of protesters.
Punjab farmers, representing over 30 farm bodies, had announced they will go to Delhi through several routes — Lalru, Shambhu, Patiala-Pehowa, Patran-Khanauri, Moonak-Tohana, Ratia-Fatehabad and Talwandi-Sirsa.
Farmer bodies said they will hold a dharna wherever they are stopped from moving towards the National Capital.
Security beefed up in Delhi, some Metro lines suspended
In anticipation of the farmers protest on Thursday, Delhi Police personnel were deployed in large numbers in the border areas of the National Capital and all incoming vehicles were being checked. Five sand-laden trucks have been stationed at Singhu border to stop tractors being driven by the protesters. Also, drones have been deployed for security purposes, police said.
While clarifying that the borders have not been sealed, officials said all pickets have been made active, while all vehicles entering the national capital were being checked.
Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava visited the bordering areas and took stock of the situation there. "Due to COVID-19 , guidelines have been issued in which political gathering is not permitted here and for this, their (the farmers') request was rejected. If they still make an attempt, we have deployed personnel at the borders to not let them enter the National Capital. We are also in contact with Punjab and Haryana Police," he said.
Asked about commuters facing inconvenience, the Delhi Police chief said, "Since they (protesting farmers) have already blocked the national highway, there are going to be some problems, but we will try to sort it out as soon as possible... instead of coming to the National Capital, they (farmers) should go back and do not break any guideline."
Additionally, the DMRC said that Delhi Metro services from neighbouring cities will remain suspended in view of the protest march. However, metro services will be available from Delhi towards NCR sections, they said.
Taking to Twitter, the DMRC said, "From 2 pm onwards Metro services are available from Delhi towards the NCR sections. However, services from NCR sections to Delhi still continue to remain suspended due to security reasons till further notice."
On Wednesday, the DMRC had said trains would not cross borders of the National Capital on Thursday till 2 pm due to farmers' protests.
War of words over farmers protest
A war of words ensued between the Congress government in Punjab and the BJP government in Haryana over farmers protest against the Centre's new laws on Thursday.
Shortly after Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh hit out at the Manohar Lal Khattar-led Haryana government for stopping farmers en-route to Delhi, Khattar told him to "stop inciting innocent farmers".
Khattar asked Singh to desist from "misleading" farmers, pointing out to him that he has already pledged to quit politics if the Minimum Support Price mechanism is ever dismantled.
"@Capt Amarinder Ji, I've said it earlier and I'm saying it again, I'll leave politics if there'll be any trouble on the MSP -- therefore, please stop inciting innocent farmers," Khattar tweeted.
Khattar also accused the Punjab chief minister of only tweeting and running away from talks with him for the last three days on the issue.
"I've been trying to reach out to you for the last three days but, sadly, you have decided to stay unreachable — is this how serious you are for farmers' issues? You're only tweeting and running away from talks, why?" Khattar said in another tweet.
"Please stop putting the lives of people in danger during the Corona pandemic. I urge you not to play with the lives of the people at least avoid cheap politics during the time of the pandemic," Khattar told Singh.
Earlier in the day, Amarinder had lashed out at the Haryana government for stopping farmers from moving towards Delhi, saying the use of "brute force" against them is totally undemocratic and unconstitutional
"Why is @mlkhattar govt in Haryana stopping the farmers from moving to Delhi? The tyrannical use of brute force against peacefully protesting farmers is totally undemocratic and unconstitutional," said Amarinder in a tweet.
He said farmers have been peacefully protesting in Punjab against the farm laws for two months.
"Why is Haryana govt provoking them by resorting to force? Don't the farmers have the right to pass peacefully through a public highway?" he asked.
The Punjab chief minister also said it was a sad irony that the constitutional rights of farmers were being oppressed on Constitution Day.
Meanwhile, former BJP ally, SAD also condemned the police action against protesting farmers.
SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal tweeted: "Today is Punjab’s 26/11. We are witnessing the end of the right to democratic protest. @Akali_Dal_ condemns the Haryana govt & Centre for choosing to repress the peaceful farmer movement. (sic)"
Several other Opposition leaders like Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also supported the farmers' strike.
नहीं हुआ है अभी सवेरा,
पूरब की लाली पहचान
चिड़ियों के जगने से पहले,
खाट छोड़ उठ गया किसान
काले क़ानूनों के बादल गरज रहे गड़-गड़,
अन्याय की बिजली चमकती चम-चम
मूसलाधार बरसता पानी,
ज़रा ना रुकता लेता दम!
मोदी सरकार की क्रूरता के ख़िलाफ़ देश का किसान डटकर खड़ा है। pic.twitter.com/UMtYbKqSkM
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 26, 2020
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also said, "All the three farming bills of the central government are anti-farmer. Instead of withdrawing this bill, farmers are being prevented from holding peaceful demonstrations, water cannons are being run on them. This crime is absolutely wrong on farmers. Peaceful performance is his constitutional right."
'However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.'
- B. R. Ambedkar#ConstitutionDay pic.twitter.com/5rwaFidDll
— Raghav Chadha (@raghav_chadha) November 26, 2020
Workers in Kerala, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bengal, Odisha observe strike
Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Assam and Telangana witnessed complete shut down on Thursday and normal life was partially affected in many other states due to the protests. The day-long countrywide strike has also been supported by various independent federations and associations.
"The states of Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Assam and Telangana have reported complete shutdown. Tamil Nadu reported a complete shutdown in 13 districts, while the industrial strike continues in the rest of the districts. Punjab and Haryana have reported that the state road transport buses have not left their depots in the morning," a joint statement issued by the trade unions said.
Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh reported 100 percent strike, including at BALCO, the statement said.
Normal life was affected in West Bengal and Tripura, and sporadic incidents of clashes were reported in West Bengal, PTI reported.
Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC) and Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) are part of the joint platform.
Others are All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) and United Trade Union Congress (UTUC).
BJP-aligned Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is not participating in the strike.
Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) general secretary Harbhajan Singh Sidhu told PTI that the number of workers who joined the natiowide agitation on Thursday exceeded the expected number of 25 crores.
He also said that coal mine workers along with those from the defence, railways, and other public sectors are also supporting the strike.
Scheme workers, electricity employees, domestic workers, construction workers, beedi workers, hawkers, vendors, agricultural workers, self-employed in rural and urban India are holding demonstrations at various places, even defying police restrictions, the statement said.
At many places, the auto and taxi drivers have remained off the roads. Railway and defence employees have held demonstrations in support of the strike at their respective places of work.
As per the statement, operations of financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies have also been affected.
Besides state government and central government employees, those from the Income Tax Department and other PSU workers are participating in the strike in a big way, the unions claimed.
"Reports of the successful strike in coal and copper mines, including other mineral resource mines, have been received. The employees of postal, telecom and steel sector were also in action and gramin dak sevaks observed 100 percent strike," the statement said.
In several places, oil sector unions also observed the strike. Workers also resorted to picketing in some parts of the country.
Further, the statement said that the total number of workers who have joined the strike at over 25 crores exceeds the number of those who participated in a similar strike on 8 January.
With inputs from agencies
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