Farmers who have been protesting for months against the new agricultural laws blocked a major highway outside New Delhi on Saturday to mark the 100th day of their campaign, NDTV reported.
Thousands of farmers have been camped outside Delhi since December, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal the three laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies. Farmers fear the policies will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime.
They have hunkered down with supplies which they say will last them for months, and have resolved to not leave until their demands are met. Many of them have died during the struggle, though the official count is not known.
On the 100th day of the agitation, the protestors said they will stop all traffic on the six-lane Kundli-Manesar Palwal Expressway for up to five hours to mark the “Black Day”.
Besides blocking roads, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organisation of various farmer bodies that is spearheading the movement, has given a call to free the toll plazas near the highways, and wave black flags from offices and residences across the country.
“We are completely prepared,” Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, who is among the leaders at the forefront of the movement, told PTI. “Unless and until the government listens to us and meets our demands, we will not move from here.”
Farmers believe that after these 100 days, their movement will put a “moral pressure” on the government to agree to their demands. “This is because the weather will also worsen,” Samyukt Kisan Morcha spokesperson Darshan Pal, told Reuters. “It will weaken the government, which will have to sit down with us to talk again.”
Several rounds of talks between the government and farm leaders took place, but none of them could manage to end the deadlock. In January, the Supreme Court had suspended the implementation of the laws until further orders.
The movement poses one of the biggest challenges to Modi since he took power in 2014, as he faces criticism from all sides, including from some allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Shiromani Akali Dal of Punjab quit the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre in September itself.
Another sign of impact was the Congress’ spectacular performance in the urban body polls held in Punjab last month.
‘100 days of BJP’s arrogance’: Congress
The Congress hit out at the government for the crackdown on the farmers’ protest after the violence during the tractor rally in Delhi on January 26, as the agitation reached the 100-day milestone.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said nails were fixed on the borders of Delhi for the farmers whose sons risk their lives for the country. “Annadaatas [the farmers] demand their rights and government commits atrocities,” he tweeted.
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted, “100 days of farmers’ sacrifice, of fight for rights, of respect for ‘annadaatas’, of the path shown by Gandhiji [Mahatma Gandhi], Sardar [Vallabhbhai] Patel, Nehruji [Jawaharlal Nehu], Shastriji [Lal Bahadur Shastri] and Shaheed Bhagat Singh.”
She added that this also marked “100 days of BJP’s arrogance”.
Meanwhile Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera alleged that the government and media heaped “all kinds of insults” on the farmers, PTI reported. “Today, what we are witnessing is an attempt to wipe out the narrative of the farmers, to wipe out the narrative of their protest from the media,” he said. “The country has seen through this government’s efforts for headline management...a cornered regime is there and how will it react now is for us to wait and watch.”
Khera said while the farmers have called this a “black day”, the Congress thinks this as a “black chapter” in Indian democracy. “They [farmers] were demonised, all kinds of conspiracies were hatched against them, but they stayed on,” he added.
He reiterated the Congress’ demand for the laws to be immediately repealed. “Each one of us, whichever category we may belong to, have our own struggles and that is the awareness on which the government depends,” Khera said.
The months-long farmers’ protest had been largely peaceful but violence erupted on January 26, when a section of farmers veered off the planned route of a tractor rally, and stormed into the Red Fort in Delhi. The police responded by baton charging and using tear gas on the protestors, leading to the death of one farmer. Scores of protestors and police officials were also injured.
A government crackdown on the protests followed. More than 100 protestors were arrested in connection with the violence and several are missing. Internet was suspended and the protest sites were fortified with concrete, nails and even spikes.
The movement has also gained widespread support, including from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and international celebrities such as pop singer Rihanna.
On Friday, women farmers participating in the protest were featured on the international cover of Time magazine’s March edition.