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Farmers Protest Update: Centre Ready for Talks, Says Narendra Tomar

Chintu Das
Chintu Das
Narendra Singh Tomar

The 10-hour Bharat Bandh by Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation of over 40 farm unions, had the biggest impact in Punjab, Haryana, and areas in western UP, the major catchment region for farmers protesting against the Centre's three farm laws. 

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar remarked in Gwalior only hours before the protests started that farmers should stop protesting and instead engage in conversation with the administration. He stated that the Centre was prepared to conduct talks on the subject and that it would continue to "address the farmers' problems as sensitively as it did in the past." To terminate the farmers' protest, the Centre and farmer unions have undertaken 11 rounds of negotiations, the most recent of which took place on January 22, more than nine months ago. Following the violence in the capital during a tractor rally on Republic Day, talks have yet to begin. 

The Delhi Traffic Police increased security and stopped vehicular movement at the Gurgaon-Delhi, Delhi Noida Direct flyway, and Ghazipur borders, causing traffic congestion. Protesters stopped nearly seven roads in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, allowing only ambulances to pass. 

Private modes of transportation and shops, on the other hand, remained operational throughout the city, as their unions and organisations had merely expressed in-principle support for the strike. According to a Northern Railway official, more than 20 places in the Delhi, Ambala, and Ferozepur divisions were blocked, affecting about 25 trains. The Delhi Police tweeted at 4 p.m. that traffic on the expressway was normal. 

Rakesh Tikait, a spokeswoman for the Bharatiya Kisan Union, apologised to everyone who had been inconvenienced by the strike, saying that protestors had helped relocate emergency vehicles and even "supplied passengers with refreshments." He denied that the protest was limited to farmers from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and said that support from farmers across the country would push the Centre to reconsider the legislation. Tikait stated that BKU was willing to talk to the government, but no such negotiations appeared to be imminent. 

The impact of the bandh encouraged opposition parties, who believed it illustrated that the agitation was only getting stronger and that it could provide them with an anti-Centre and anti-BJP electoral ringtone for ground mobilization in the upcoming assembly elections in UP, Punjab, and Uttarakhand. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader, tweeted: "Farmers' nonviolent satyagraha is still going strong, but the exploitative government isn't happy about it. As a result, a Bharat Bandh has been declared today." 

The bandh has already received support from the Congress, SAD, SP, BSP, Trinamool, AAP, YSRCP, and Left parties, with some of them asking their members to join the strike. The Chairman of the AICC committee for organizing continuous agitations, Digvijaya Singh, took part in a farmers' dharna in Bhopal. "When Gandhi Ji staged protests during British rule, he might have gone to court. However, the terms of these three agricultural laws have taken away this right to go to court "Singh said. 

Akhilesh Yadav of the SP stated his party supported the strike. The bandh was mostly apparent in western Uttar Pradesh regions, while marketplaces in metropolitan areas remained open. The demand for a bandh in Muzaffarnagar, Tikait's hometown, and Hathras drew a mixed reaction, with urban areas mostly untouched while hundreds of BKU farmers sat in protest in various regions. While Punjab had a near-lockdown scenario, pandemonium was reported in Chennai's Anna Salai when police apprehended protestors. Commuters in Bihar had to wait for train services to restart in at least seven locations, as protestors from the RJD, Congress, and CPI obstructed National Highways and railway tracks. 

Shops, businesses, and transportation in Maharashtra were largely unaffected. A demonstration was held in Bengaluru from the busy Town Hall crossroads to the Mysore Bank circle, causing a long chain of traffic disruptions. In the northeast, the bandh elicited a mixed reaction. 

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