Ghazipur takes centrestage as farmers from Uttarakhand, western UP join sit-in; internet services suspended at protest sites
The farmers held a day-long fast on Saturday, paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, as the stir appeared to regain momentum after rallying support from the farmer community of the crucial western Uttar Pradesh region
More farmers gathered Saturday at Gazipur, on the Delhi-Meerut highway, that has now become the new focal point of the stir against the Centre's farm laws, while farmer leaders claimed that protesters were also heading back to Singhu and Tikri protest sites, days after the crowds had waned following the violence at the tractor rally on 26 January.
On Saturday, the farmers also held a day-long fast paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, as the stir appeared to regain momentum after rallying support from the farmer community of the crucial western Uttar Pradesh region.
Wearing garlands, the farmer leaders, who had called for observing 'Sadbhavana Diwas' (Harmony Day) on Saturday after the immense outrage over violence during the Republic Day tractor rally, sat on the dais during the fast.
The Ministry of Home Affairs ordered a temporary suspension of internet services at Singhu, Ghazipur, and Tikri borders. Apart from these protest sites, internet services also remained suspended in the adjoining areas from 11 pm of 29 January to 11 pm on 31 January.
The decision has been taken to "maintain public safety and averting public emergency" under Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules 2017, PTI reported.
A similar action was taken by the Haryana government on Friday, wherein it suspended internet services in 14 districts.
Security personnel, including from anti-riot police and paramilitary forces, were deployed at the three protest sites. Multiple layers of barricades including concrete blocks were being put at the protest sites.
The Delhi Police, which is investigating the Republic Day violence in the National Capital, on Saturday said that 84 people have been arrested in connection to the incident. A total of 38 cases have been registered so far.
The tractor march by farmers protesting against the three recent agriculture laws had turned violent, leading to chaotic scenes on the streets of the National Capital on Republic Day.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed an all-party meeting on the occasion of the beginning of the Union Budget session and said that the Centre's offer to farmers on the new farm laws "still stands", referring to government's proposal that said that it will stay the implementation of the contentious laws for 18 months.
UP, Uttarkhand farmers join protests at Ghazipur
The numbers of farmers and supporters continued to swell on Saturday, especially in Gazipur, where the Bharatiya Kisan Union is leading the protest.
Addressing the protesters in Gazipur, BKU leader Rakesh Tikait, whose emotional appeal had galvanised farmers from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to flock to the protest site, said they have fought this battle for over two months now, and "they won't relent or retreat".
"The movement was and is strong," BKU's Meerut Zone president Pawan Khatana said, a day after tens of thousands of farmers from the politically sensitive western Uttar Pradesh gathered in Muzaffarnagar to participate in a mahapanchayat in a massive outpouring of support for the Bharatiya Kisan Union-led protest.
Till now, the agitation was seen as mainly being led by Punjab-based farmer unions.
A multitude of green-and-white caps, symbolic of the unions spearheading the battle, union flags and the Tricolour, planted on tractors, dotted the highway.
On various tractors and camps, photos of legendary farmer leaders such as Chaudhary Charan Singh and Mahendra Singh Tikait have been put up.
Khatana, who is at the demonstration site with Tikait, said there has been continuous support for the "peaceful protest" against the farmers' demand for removal of the new agri laws.
"This is not a political protest. Anybody who shares the ideology of the BKU and Rakesh Tikait is welcome here. But it is our appeal to those who do not wish to support the movement till the end that please do not come only to leave in between," he said.
Several Opposition parties including the Congress, TMC AAP, RLD and the Left have openly supported the stir.
Leaders expect more protesters by 2 Feb
Abhimanyu Kohar, a senior member of Samkyukt Kisan Morcha which is an umbrella body of farmer unions protesting against the three farm laws, said the ongoing agitation will gain strength as farmers in large numbers will join them in the coming days.
Farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said in Chandigarh that he expects a record gathering by 2 February at the border points of Delhi.
"People in large numbers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand are reaching the protest sites," Rajewal claimed.
The president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) also condemned the violence in Delhi on the Republic Day and said it was unfortunate.
"Possibly by 2 February, there will again be a record gathering of people at the protest sites," he said, adding that the agitation would remain peaceful.
Rajewal also criticised the Haryana government for suspending internet services.
He accused the Centre of instilling a sense of fear among people by showing pictures of the "unfortunate incidents", apparently referring to the 26 January violence in Delhi.
Rajewal appealed to those joining the agitation at Delhi's borders to keep the protest peaceful. "It is our responsibility to keep the agitation peaceful," he stressed.
The farmer leader appealed to the Centre to shun its "stubborn attitude" and withdraw the three farm laws.
Asked about the next meeting between the protesting farmers and the government, he said, "When they call us, we will certainly go".
To a question on joining the investigation following notices issued by the Delhi Police to farmer leaders in connection with the Republic Day violence, Rajewal said, "We will send them a reply."
The Delhi Police has issued the notices to around 20 farmer leaders, including Rajewal, over the violence during the farmers' tractor parade, asking why legal action should not be taken against them.
Heavy security deployment, including personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), Rapid Action Force (RAF) in anti-riot gears and civil police, continued at the protest site.
Police had on Friday used tear gas and baton charge to break up a clash between farmers and a large group of men who claimed to be local residents at the Singhu border. The Delhi Traffic Police said movement on the National Highway 24 (Delhi-Meerut Expressway) has been stopped.
Forensic experts visit Red Fort after R-Day violence
A team of forensic experts on Saturday visited the Red Fort to collect evidence on the Republic Day violence. A group of protesters had broken away from the designated route for the farmers' tractor rally and entered the Red Fort and hoisted a religious flag.
The Crime Branch of Delhi Police is investigating the matter and several teams have been formed to identify the culprits. The force has termed the vandalisation at the fort as an "anti-national act".
"A team of forensic experts visited Red Fort and is collecting evidence," an official said.
On Friday, the Delhi Police had issued an appeal in leading newspapers asking people to share any evidence or information about the violence.
"All members of the public, including media persons, who are witnesses to the incidents or have any information about the incident or have captured any activity on their mobile phones or camera, are hereby requested to come forward and give their statements/footage/picture in their possession at room number 215, second floor, Old Delhi Police Headquarters, ITO, during office hours, on any working day or contact on 8750871237 or 011-23490094 or send e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org," the appeal stated.
On Saturday, the Delhi Police said that it has received 1,700 video clips and CCTV footage from the public so far, and is taking help from forensic experts to analyse the material and identify the culprits.
Centre is 'phone call away' for talks, says Modi
Modi also told leaders of various political parties that the
Addressing leaders of various political parties at the customary all-party meeting convened by the government for the smooth conduct of the Budget Session, the prime minister said on Saturday that the Centre was a "phone call away" for talks with the farmers.
Responding to the references by Opposition leaders about the "unfortunate incident" on Republic Day, Modi also said that the "law will take its own course".
Sharing the details of the meeting chaired by Modi and attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said, "The prime minister assured that the Centre is approaching the farmers issue with an open mind."
"The prime minister said the Centre's stand is same as it was on 22 January, the last meeting between the protesting farmers and the Centre and proposal given by Agriculture Minister on the farm laws still stands. Modiji reiterated what (Narendra Singh) Tomar had said — that he (Tomar) is a phone call away for talks," Joshi said, quoting Modi.
At the meeting, various leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress, Sudip Bandyopadhyay of Trinamool Congress, Balwinder Singh Bhunder of Shiromani Akali Dal and Vinayak Raut of Shiv Sena raised the issue of protesting farmers, PTI quoted sources as saying.
All major Opposition parties sought discussions on farmers' issues during the meeting.
While almost all the Opposition parties condemned the violence and vandalism at the Red Fort by a group of protesting farmers on Republic Day, they asserted that other farmers protesting peacefully should not be held responsible for it.
With inputs from agencies
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Tikait said the government should not be under the impression that the movement against the laws will end as farmers will go to their villages to harvest their crop