The agitating farmers have given a call for a ‘Bharat Bandh’ today (Tuesday) for which they have elicited support from across the political spectrum – the sole exception being the TMC -- as well as trade bodies.
However, ‘Bharat Bandh’ is a misnomer as the impact of the blockade is likely to be restricted to the northern states. Elsewhere, it is expected to be sporadic and minimal, more symbolic than intimidating.
But that does not detract from the importance of a nascent uprising which could build into a groundswell later. Also, the optics of it all, in India and abroad, could prove a major embarrassment for a government which has ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ as its leitmotif.
The farmers, in all fairness, have not allowed the agitation to veer out of control and descend into lawlessness. Announcing their plans, the leaders said that they will occupy toll plazas at the borders of Delhi between 11 am to 3 pm. While promising that emergency services will be allowed, the leaders have asked farmers not to coax shopkeepers and desist from trying to enforce the clamp down by force.
"Our bandh is different from that of political parties. It is a four-hour symbolic bandh for an ideological cause. We want that there should be no untoward problem for the aam aadmi. We appeal to them not to travel during this period," farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said.
The Haryana and Delhi Police have nonetheless issued separate advisories on the traffic situation, especially on roads that are to be avoided in Haryana and Delhi. The police are also prepared for any kind of disruptions at the various toll plazas.
The government will be happy if the protests are restricted to the border. They have made sure of that, with as many as 90 companies of paramilitary troops, including 27 from the riot police, being deployed to handle the agitation.
What has the government on tenterhooks is that an attempt may be made to ‘gherao’ the PMO or stage a march to Jantar Mantar. Intelligence agencies claim that the agitation has been “infiltrated” by cadres of Popular Front of India and radical Left outfits which might try to usurp the movement by marching towards central Delhi and clashing with the police at barricades, reports News 18.
Intelligence inputs also point to a possible 'surprise' that agitators might throw up. "They are planning to do something spectacular. We saw their tractor burning stunt at India Gate earlier. Plans are afoot to execute something similar," an official in the know told News18.
Meanwhile, farmers continued to protest at the Delhi-Haryana border for the 12th day on Monday, but there was no blockade as movement of vegetables, food items and milk was allowed in the national capital.
"Why should we stop supplies in the capital? They are all farmers and we do not want to harm their interests," a leader asserted.
He pointed out that their agitation was peaceful, but it is the police force that was trying to provoke them. Farmers from UP who wanted to join those from Punjab and Haryana were stopped by the UP police, it was pointed out.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was at the border to oversee the arrangements made by his government for food and shelter. Kejriwal told the protestors that he was just a ‘sewadar.’
The gurdwaras in the capital have also geared up to ensure supplies to the protesting farmers while many doctors have volunteered to provide health services at the protest sites.
The farmer leaders said they are looking forward to interacting with the government again on Wednesday after the bandh, hoping that the impact may rouse the government and force it to concede their demands.
The Congress and all opposition parties, barring TMC, have extended their support to the ‘Bandh’ but the farmers have steered clear of political cadres. They don’t want to give an excuse to the government to dub the ongoing agitation as ‘politically motivated’.