Thousands of farmers from across the country on Sunday gathered in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district in a show of strength against the Centre’s three contentious agricultural laws. They are participating in a Kisan Mahapanchayat, or farmer congregation, called by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha.

At the gathering in the government inter-college grounds, Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said the farmers would discuss strategies to continue their protests against the legislations.

“We take a pledge that we will not leave the protest site [at Delhi borders] even if our graveyard is made there,” Tikait said, according to ANI. “We will lay down our lives if needed, but will not leave the protest site until we emerge victorious.”

Protests against the three legislations started in November last year. On Sunday, farmers resolved to mobilise against the BJP ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, NDTV reported.

“For long, the government and a section of media have been describing us as mutthi bhar kisan [a handful of farmers],” said Rajveer Singh, state vice-president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, according to The Hindu. “We want to prove them wrong.”

Tikait said that the Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh had not increased the state-assured price for crops by even a rupee, according to The Indian Express.

“Nobody would vote [for BJP] if we do not get correct prices for our crops, the farmer leader said. “People of Uttar Pradesh will not tolerate [Home Minister Amit] Shah, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and [Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister] Yogi [Adityanath]. Is Yogi government so weak that it cannot raise the price of crops by even one rupee?”

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha called for a “Bharat Bandh” or a countrywide shutdown on September 27 to press for the demands.

The mahapanchayat, the farmer outfits, had told, would be the beginning of a renewed phase of protests.

Th Bharatiya Janata Party-run Central government has claimed the new laws are aimed at making farming more profitable, but the farmers argue that they will bring about corporate dominance of the sector. The farmers also claim that once the prevailing authority of the state marketing boards – that provide a shield against exploitation – collapses, private entities will dictate the price of their produce.

Security arrangements

The Muzzafarnagar administration strengthened the security in the district ahead of the gathering, News 18 reported.

Eight companies of provincial armed constabulary forces with more than 1,000 personnel along with two companies of rapid action force guarded the venue as farmers started to assemble.

More than 1,000 police officers from neighbouring districts of Saharanpur, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Shamli and Baghpat have been guarding the highways and roads leading to the event.

Drones with digital cameras will send live pictures to surveillance rooms, while closed circuit television cameras will monitor the event closely.

Last month, the police baton-charged a group of farmers when they tried to get to the venue of a BJP meeting in Haryana’s Karnal district. At least 10 farmers were injured in the attack.

Politicians support farmers

Meanwhile, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi voiced his support for the mahapanchayat. “The call of truth is echoing...You have to listen, unjust government,” he tweeted.

The party’s general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also tweeted in support of the farmers.

“Farmers are the voice and pride of this country,” she tweeted in Hindi on Sunday. “No government’s pride stands a chance in front of the farmers’ clarion call. The entire country is with the farmers in their fight to save the agriculture sector and win their rights.”

The party’s Uttar Pradesh unit chief, Ajay Kumar Lallu, said that the mahapanchayat would be instrumental in unseating the “arrogant government”.

Even Bharatiya Janata Party MP Varun Gandhi called for resuming dialogue between the farmers and the Central government. “We need to start re-engaging with them in a respectful manner: understand their pain, their point of view and work with them in reaching common ground,” he tweeted.

However, the chief of the party’s farmers’ body Kisan Morcha, Rajkumar Chahar, said that the mahapanchayat was held with political motives, PTI reported.

“This was very much a political and election meeting,” he alleged. “The opposition and these farmer union leaders have been using the farmers to engage in politics.”