Bharat Bandh disrupts life in some states; Opposition to meet Prez today

A farmer holds a flag as he sits on an empty blocked highway at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Ghaziabad. Photo: PTI
Farmers took the national centrestage on Tuesday as their call for a ‘Bharat Bandh’ to push for a repeal of the new agri laws disrupted life in myriad ways with shops closed, transport affected and protesters squatting on roads and train tracks in several places, though many states remained largely unaffected.


As the day wound to a mostly peaceful close, Union Home Minister Amit Shah stepped in to call farmer leaders for talks, ahead of the sixth round of talks between Central ministers and farmer representatives on Wednesday.


"We will demand just a 'yes' or a 'no' from Home Minister Amit Shah," farmer leader Rudru Singh Mansa told reporters at the Singhu border where thousands of farmers have been protesting for the last 12 days.


As analysts, politicians and others assessed how effective the 'bandh' had been, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav claimed it was observed in around 10,000 places in 25 states. Emergency services were exempted and banks, too, continued operations as the pan-India shutdown, backed by most opposition parties and trade unions, rolled out noisily but peacefully with its impact felt in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, the epicentre of the snowballing protests, as well as in states such as Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar.


In several parts of the country, including in BJP-ruled Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, life continued unimpeded.


In other places, the pandemic appeared to recede into the background. Security was stepped up, restive crowds demonstrated in some places and the numbers swelled at Delhi's border points. Protesters also blocked railway tracks in places in West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.


As slogans such as “Kisan Ekta Zindabad” were heard in protest centrepoints such as Tikri and the agitation picked up pace, the hashtag #AajBharatBandhHai was trending worldwide on Twitter till late afternoon.


From the Rajasthan capital Jaipur, where ‘mandis' were closed but shops open, there were reports of clashes between workers of the state's ruling Congress and the BJP. In Delhi, where most main markets were open, tension spiralled with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleging that Delhi Police had put Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal under house arrest.


City police denied the claim but the party stuck to its guns and said the move was a response to Kejriwal meeting protesting farmers at the Singhu border. "If I was not stopped, I would have gone and supported the protesting farmers in their 'Bharat Bandh' movement. I am glad that 'Bharat Bandh' was a success," Kejriwal said. Farmer unions had threatened to block national highways and occupy toll plazas across the country during a 'chakka jam' protest from 11 am to 3 pm.


All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah described the shutdown as a show of strength by the farmers.


"We are standing by our demand that we want a complete repeal of the three laws and will not accept any cosmetic changes… If our demands are not met, we are ready to take our agitation to the next level," Mollah said.


The protesting farmers fear the new laws will pave the way for eliminating the safety of the Minimum Support Price cushion and do away with 'mandis', leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The government maintains the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.


Opposition parties are expected to meet Kovind on Wednesday evening to raise their concerns about the three farm laws.


"Leaders from different political parties (those opposing the farm bills) will sit, discuss and take a collective stand on the contentious farm laws before meeting President Ram Nath Kovind," NCP chief Sharad Pawar told reporters.


The political faultlines deepened. The BJP, in turn, slammed the opposition parties for support to the shutdown, saying they are resorting to spreading confusion over issues to "stoke the fire" after being unable to counter PM Narendra Modi's popularity.


Union minister Prakash Javadekar noted that many states ruled by them had introduced contract farming and criticised their stand against the farm laws and their backing for the 'bandh'.


In Punjab and Haryana, shops and commercial establishments were closed as were thousands of fuel pumps. Farmers assembled at highways and other key roads in both states since morning. All major parties in Punjab — the ruling Congress, AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal —extended support. Over 50,000 government employees took mass casual leave in support of farmers, said Punjab Civil Secretariat Staff Association president Sukhchain Khaira.


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