Around 200 farmers agitating against the Centre’s new agriculture laws gathered at the Jantar Mantar to conduct a “kisan sansad [farmers’ parliament]” parallel to the proceedings at the ongoing Monsoon Session on Thursday.

Farmer leaders discussed the three new farm laws in detail. “The distance between us and the Parliament is constantly reducing,” Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, one of the most prominent faces of the agitation, told The Indian Express. “We are just a few hundred metres away now. Two hundred farmers will come here to protest every day, under this very tree.”

Referring to a neem tree under which the farmers were protesting, Tikait said: “This will be a historic tree.” He had told ANI earlier in the day that the farmers will monitor proceedings of the House and hold their own parliament sessions at the protest site.

The farmers have promised to hold these protests every day till August 9, between 11 am and 5 pm, at the Jantar Mantar which is located a few metres away from the Parliament, PTI reported.

“We will show [politicians] how to hold Parliament,” political activist Yogendra Yadav, one of the union leaders, said, according to NDTV. “Farmers have issued a whip to the parliamentarians. We are going their to keep a vigil...We are going there to discuss an issue which has been discussed in the Parliaments of United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, but not in India.”

Security personnel deployed outside the protest site at Jantar Mantar on Thursday. Credit: Vijayta Lalwani

Earlier in the day, the Delhi Police stopped the buses that were ferrying the farmers to the protest site at the city’s border. The farmers were told to provide an undertaking declaring that they will follow all Covid norms and that the demonstration would be peaceful.

Journalists wait outside the barricades as the police deny them permission to enter the protest site. Credit: Vijayta Lalwani

Thousands of farmers have been camping outside Delhi since November, demanding that the central government repeal the three new laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar maintained that the farm laws are beneficial. “We have had discussions about these laws,” he told reporters in Parliament. “If they express their issues with the laws point-wise, we can discuss it.”

Rahul Gandhi and a host of Left leaders held a protest in solidarity with the farm leaders. Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal MPs stood with placards as Tomar entered Parliament.

Ahead of the planned demonstrations in Delhi on Thursday, security at Jantar Mantar has been tightened. The authorities have deployed police and paramilitary personnel.

The police had asked the Delhi Metro authorities to maintain extra vigil at seven stations in the area and close them if needed, NDTV reported.

“Apart from this, anti-riot force, water cannons and tear gas are on standby to make all efforts to stop the anti-social elements among the farmers from crossing over into Delhi forcefully, similar to what happened on Republic Day this year,” said an official.

This is the second time in the eight months since the farmers’ agitation began that such demonstrations will be held in the Capital. The last one was on January 26. However, violence had erupted during the tractor rally on Republic Day. One person was killed and more than 300 police officers were injured during the rally.

The police and the government clamped down on the farmers’ agitation after the violence. Barricades were erected at protest sites and internet services were suspended. Hundreds of protestors were arrested.

“Our protest will be peaceful,” said All India Kisan Sabha leader Hannan Mollah. “A rumour is being spread that farmers are going to lay a siege. It’s all false. This kind of protest is held at Parliament Street [at Jantar Mantar]. Nobody [protesting farmers] will go to Parliament.”

Farm law protests

The farmers fear the central government laws will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime. The government, however, continues to claim that the three legislations are pro-farmer.

In January, nearly two months into the protest movement, the Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the farm laws. It instead set up a committee and tasked it to consult stakeholders and assess the impact of the laws.

Talks between farmers groups and the central government to resolve the protests came to a complete deadlock after farmers rejected the Centre’s offer to suspend the laws for two years. The last time both sides met was on January 22. Since then, most farmer leaders have said they were willing to speak to the government again.