Bharat Bandh will be peaceful, say farmers; government ups security
Farmers who have been protesting against the Centre's agricultural reforms have called for a Bharat Bandh today, which will remain in place from 11 am to 3 pm. The agitating farmers plan to block key roads during the slated time period. Though farmers' organizations have urged for a peaceful protest, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued an advisory, asking states to be well-prepared.
Three farm laws, passed during the Monsoon Session, have sparked this protest, which is primarily steered by farmers from Haryana and Punjab. While the Centre argued that opening up markets will help farmers generate more income, they have fears that eventually mandis will cease to exist, spelling doom for their livelihoods. Five rounds of discussions between farmers and the Centre failed to end the deadlock.
Ahead of today's bandh, posters in support of the same dotted Ludhiana — the industrial capital of Punjab. This assumes significance because the Punjab city usually doesn't participate in such bandhs. Ludhiana Stock Exchange (LSE) will remain closed. Farmers' unions plan to block state as well as national highways. It is expected that buses and trucks will not ply on roads today.
Congress, which is in power in Punjab and has been fiercely opposing the laws, plans to organize dharnas at district levels. The main opposition party, Shiromani Akali Dal, which snapped ties with NDA in September, canceled its centenary celebrations scheduled for December 8-10. In Chandigarh, market associations have lent support to the shutdown. Almost all trade unions have come out in support as well.
In Pune, the APMC market will remain functional. A local trader explained that they stand by farmers but have chosen to keep the market open "so farm produces coming in from other states can be stored or else they will rot. They will only be sold tomorrow." The supply of fruits and vegetables is expected to be derailed in Mumbai and Delhi.
In Azadpur Mandi of Delhi, one of the largest vegetable markets, most shops were shut. Adil Ahmed Khan, the chairman of Azadpur Mandi, said mandis at Ghazipur, Okhla, and Narela could also be affected. Commuters could also face problems in Delhi as some taxi unions have supported the bandh. Even those associated with app-based aggregators have lent their support.
The Left parties have supported the bandh and their presence was felt in states like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. At Bhubaneshwar Railway Station, Left parties, trade unions, and farmer unions stopped trains. In Andhra, the Left parties stage a protest in Parvathipuram of Vizianagaram district to show support to farmers. While West Bengal's Trinamool has not supported the shutdown, it's standing by the farmers.
Last evening, MHA issued an advisory to all states and Union Territories, asking them to ensure peace is maintained during the shutdown. All coronavirus-linked precautions must also be followed, said MHA. Police in Delhi and Haryana issued travel advisory — traffic on National Highways 9, 19, 24, 44, and 48 is likely to be affected. Meanwhile, a high-alert has been sounded in Uttar Pradesh.
Unsurprisingly, security has been tightened at the Singhu border — the epicenter of the protest. Reportedly, Tikri, Jharoda borders, and Dhansa have been closed for traffic. Rakesh Tikait of Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of the organizations headlining the protest, underlined that today's shutdown will remain peaceful. He said farmers will provide food and water to those getting stuck in jams because of the shutdown.