New Delhi/Ghaziabad, Jan 29 (PTI) Thousands of farmers reached protest sites on Friday and more are expected to join soon as union leaders accused the government of trying to destroy their 'peaceful' agitation and sought support of people in observing January 30 as Sadbhavna Diwas.
The day saw police firing tear gas and resorting to baton charge to break up a clash between farmers and a large group of men claiming to be local residents who hurled stones at each other at the Singhu border, one of the main protest sites against farm laws.
Delhi Police SHO (Alipur) Pradeep Paliwal was injured in the violence after a man attacked him with a sword. Some people were also wounded.
Taking further its probe into the Republic Day violence, Delhi Police has asked nine farmer leaders -- Rakesh Tikait, Pawan Kumar, Raj Kishore Singh, Tajender Singh Virk, Jitender Singh, Trilochan Singh, Gurmukh Singh, Harpreet Singh and Jagtar Singh Bajwa -- to join the investigation.
At Ghazipur border, thousands of farmers from western Uttar Pradesh joined the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) members who have stayed put on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway despite Ghaziabad administration's ultimatum to vacate the area.
Around 3,000 security personnel, including those from the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), the Rapid Action Force (RAF) in anti-riot gears and civil police, were deployed in and around Ghazipur protest site, DSP Indiapuram Anshu Jain told PTI.
The size of the crowd, which increased manifold overnight, was estimated around five to six thousand by districts officials while BKU office-bearers present there claimed it to be upwards of 10,000 on Friday evening.
For the first time during the protest, opposition parties of Uttar Pradesh came out in open support of BKU with some leaders reaching Ghazipur border, and others attending a mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar.
The GIC ground near Mahaveer Chowk in Muzaffarnagar was packed, a sea of people congregating to back the protesters at UP Gate in Ghazipur. Hundreds of tractors with the tricolour and flags of farm unions were parked along city roads, disrupting traffic movement.
On Saturday, the farmers will observe 'Sadbhavna Diwas' on Mahatma Gandhi's death anniversary and fast from 9 am to 5 pm. Addressing a press conference at Singhu border, farmer leaders appealed to the people of the country to join them.
The farmer leaders also slammed the ruling BJP at the Centre and accused it of trying to 'destroy' the 'peaceful' agitation against farm laws.
They asserted that the number of protesters at all the prominent protest venues- Ghazipur, Singhu, Tikri- is swelling after the police gave an ultimatum to remove Rakesh Tikait from Ghazipur border.
'A BJP member came to the protest site (Ghazipur Border) and it has helped the movement. Over one lakh people have joined us after that,' claimed farmer leader Yudhvir Singh.
Singh further said 'we don't need lecture on respecting national flag from these people. Majority of farmers who are sitting here have their children fighting in the border for the country.' Another farmer leader Darshan Pal said large number of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan and other states are moving towards Delhi to join the agitation.
Over 800 tractor trollies from Mohali(Punjab) are on their way to various border points in Delhi, he claimed.
Pal also appealed the government to restore internet services at all the protest sites, saying protest will be held if it was not done.
'We were peaceful yesterday, today and will be peaceful tomorrow also. We invite people of this country to join us in this peaceful protest,' he said.
The farmers' issue also triggered a war of words between the Congress and the BJP.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi warned that the farmers' agitation will spread across the country if not resolved soon and asserted that the only solution to the issue was to throw the new agri laws in the 'waste paper basket'.
Addressing a press conference, he launched an all-out attack at the Centre and accused it of trying to intimidate and discredit the agitating farmers, by even using the National Investigation Agency.
The BJP hit back, accusing him of declaring 'war' on Indians and giving a call for 'violence'.
At Ghazipur, flanked by supporters, Tikait remained at the centrestage of the protest site on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway, which has been barricaded from both sides, prohibiting regular traffic movement.
Several farmers from parts of Haryana have also decided to move towards Delhi borders to join the ongoing agitation against agri laws and held protests against lookout notices to peasant leaders and the Ghaziabad administration's ultimatum to vacate protest site.
The farmers claimed that issuing the lookout notices and asking the farmers to vacate the site will not weaken the ongoing agitation against the Centre's new farm laws. A number of farmers from Jind, Rohtak, Kaithal, Hisar, Bhiwani and Sonipat will be heading towards various protest sites at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, farmer leaders from Haryana claimed. Backing the protesting farmers, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh announced support to the BKU.
The former Union minister spoken to BKU president Naresh Tikait and spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, RLD vice president and his son Jayant Chaudhary said. 'It is a matter of life and death for farmers, but do not worry. All have to stay together, united in this -- this is Chaudhary sahab's (Ajit Singh's) message,' the RLD vice president said in a tweet in Hindi.
Jayant Chaudhary also visited the protest site at Ghazipur.
The Kejriwal government also extended its support to the farmers with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia visiting the Ghazipur border protest site to check the arrangements made for them by the city government.
Talking to reporters, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader said the farmers' protest has full support of the Delhi government.
Sisodia said farmer leader Rakesh Tikait had spoken to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and asked for basic amenities.
'On the orders of the chief minister, the arrangements were made at night,' he said.
Kejriwal said the AAP fully backs the ongoing protest of farmers, calling their demands valid and attempts to discredit them completely wrong.
The Ghaziabad administration late Thursday night gave an ultimatum to agitating farmers to vacate the UP Gate protest site but Tikait remained adamant, saying he would commit suicide but won't end the stir.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, demanding a rollback of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The protesting farmers have expressed the apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the 'mercy' of big corporations.
However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring better opportunities to farmers and introduce new technologies in agriculture. PTI KIS MG COR VIT NIT BUN SUN VSD ZMN