Thousands of farmers hailing from states including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, started converging in the capital yesterday for a two-day protest rally.
At about 11 am, the protestors began to pour out of the historic Ramlila Maidan - where a majority of them spent the night in tents - to proceed towards Parliament to air their grievances and voice their demands, including debt relief and better remunerative prices for their produce in the face of rising costs of agricultural inputs such as fertilisers and fuel.
However, with the police barring the last leg of the journey, around 35,000 protestors have now converged near Parliament Street Police station, where a stage has been set up for leaders and activist supporters.
Here are the top developments from the two-day rally that has been organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). The umbrella body of 207 organisations of farmers and agricultural workers on Wednesday claimed that it will be "one of the largest congregations of farmers" Delhi has seen in recent times.
- It's a 4 km march to the Parliament for the farmers, many of whom have undertaken 36-hour journeys by bus, train and other modes of transportation to participate in the rally.
- The main agenda of the mega-protest is to press the Modi government to fulfil the electoral promises made to storm into power in 2014. The farmers are demanding a special session of Parliament for a full-fledged discussion on the continuing agrarian distress.In addition, they seek the passage of two private member bills - the Farmers' Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018, and The Farmers' Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018. When these bills were introduced in the last session of Parliament, 21 political parties had reportedly indicated their support.
- There are plenty of region-specific demands, too. The farmers who have arrived in the capital from the southern states are reportedly asking for immediate compensation for the damage wrought by the recent cyclone as well as pushing river-interlinking to facilitate irrigation. In fact, the 1,200 members of the National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturalists Association arrived in Delhi on Thursday carrying the skulls of two of their colleagues who had committed suicide.
- Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered on a key electoral promise earlier this year by approving a Minimum Support Price (MSP), providing farmers a profit of 50% or more over "cost of production" for 14 notified kharif crops for 2018-19, farmers continue to face a raw deal. The prices of crops including rice, pulses and oil seeds in some wholesale markets are below the government-set rates, and it is this factor combined with inadequate government purchases that triggered the protests, Bloomberg reported. Farmers fetched about Rs 36,000 crore less in the last crop season due to lower market prices of commodities.
- The last major farmer protest in Delhi, on October 2, had turned violent with the police firing water cannon and tear-gas shells on the protestors as they tried to break through the barricades. This time, the Left-backed protest is much larger and hopeful that the authorities will be more cooperative.
- On Day 1 of the rally, the Ramlila ground started filling up with protestors from around 10.30 am, beginning with farmers from Delhi and nearby Punjab and Haryana. The farmers took four different routes to march to the grounds in the heart of the city - starting at the Anand Vihar, Nizamuddin and Bijwasan railway stations and at Sabzi Mandi. By evening, it was a sea of red as thousands of farmers wearing caps and flags congregated, shouting slogans like 'Ayodhya nahin, karz maafi chahiye' [We want loan waivers, not Ayodhya] and 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan'.
- The Delhi police said it had made elaborate arrangements to oversee the protest march from Ramlila Ground to Parliament Street today. At least 3,500 police personnel have reportedly been deployed along the route.
- The farmer's protest has found a lot of support, not just among the Opposition leaders but the aam junta, too. The buzz is that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Loktantrik Janata Dal's Sharad Yadav, to name a few, are expected to join the protestors. Social activists like Medha Patkar and journalist P Sainath have also thrown their weight behind the rally. Not just celebs, but doctors, lawyers, professors, artists and students came out in large numbers on Thursday to support the farmers, while #KisanMuktiMorcha is taking Twitter by storm. Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan tweeted yesterday, "Over 3L [lakh] farmers have committed suicide in India in last 15 yrs, due to successive govts betraying them."