Intensifying their protests against the contentious agricultural bills passed by Parliament earlier this week, several farmers' organisations, including from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have called a national shutdown on Friday.
Farmers in Punjab have already started a three-day rail blockade against the bills, squatting on tracks at many places on Thursday. The farmer outfits have also decided to call an indefinite rail blockade from October 1.
As many as 31 farmer organisations have joined hands for the 'Punjab Bandh' on Friday. Several organisations in Haryana, including the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said they have extended support to the nationwide strike. A number of farmers' groups said they will hold a "chakka jam" from 10am to 4pm on Friday.
BKU's Haryana president Ratan Singh Mann said, "Various farmers' organisations of Haryana will hold protests in all districts, tehsil, block and village levels against the farm bills passed by the Parliament. There will be a 'chakka jaam' from 10am to 4pm."
Mann said like Haryana, there will be protests in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Uttarakhand, UP and other states.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the BJP’s oldest ally, has also announced road blockades across Punjab to protest against the bills. SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema said the party’s senior leaders, workers, farmers and farm labourers would block roads in the state for three hours from 11am in a peaceful manner.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh appealed to the farmers to maintain law and order and adhere to all coronavirus-safety protocols during the strike. In a statement, Singh said the state government was fully with the farmers in their fight against the bills and no FIRs would be registered for violation of Section 144, which bars assembly of more than four people.
There should be no disturbance of law and order during the strike, Singh said. He appealed to the farmers to ensure that citizens are not inconvenienced and that lives and property are not endangered due to the agitation. Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh appealed to the people, including shopkeepers and commercial establishments, to keep their shops shut in support of the strike.
Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar urged people to support the farmers and make the strike a success. The main opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has already extended its support.
The Congress said it supports the 'Bharat Bandh' call given by farmer organisations, saying millions of party workers stand in solidarity with the farmers' cause and will participate in their dharnas. Congress spokesperson Randeep Sujewala said while farmers and farm labourers fill the stomachs of countrymen with their hard labour, the Narendra Modi government is attacking them and their fields.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi earlier said in a tweet, "Modi government's priorities -- Instead of talking to farmers and workers to find a solution to their problems, busy in PR."
Delhi Congress chief Anil Chaudhary said party workers in the national capital will launch a plan to raise the voice of farmers and farm labourers from Parliament to panchayats. He said workers will take to the streets against the farm bills.
Though many agitators have said they will protest in their own areas and not head to Delhi, Delhi Police are on high alert and have made preparations to seal the border with Haryana in a bid to forestall any such attempt. However, traffic across the Delhi-Haryana border was normal on Thursday.
The protesters have expressed apprehension that the Centre’s farm reforms would pave the way for dismantling of the minimum support price system and they would be at the “mercy” of big corporates. The farmers said they would continue their fight till the three farm bills were revoked. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill were passed by the Parliament earlier this week.
Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij held a meeting with officers of the home and police departments on Thursday to review the situation, and directed the DGP to ensure elaborate police arrangements to prevent any untoward situation.
(With inputs from agencies)