A massive crowd gathered today for a farmers’ “Mahapanchayat” or meeting called by Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Naresh Tikait in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, less than 150 km from the Ghazipur border near Delhi where Mr Tikait’s brother Rakesh is leading a protest against farm laws.
Visuals taken from a drone camera showed crowds surging at the college grounds where the meeting was held. The Mahapanchayat was called after a tense standoff last night when the UP administration tried to evict the protesting farmers from Ghazipur.
A huge build-up of policemen led to speculation that the farmers’ protest would be broken up by force. Yesterday, electricity and water supply had been cut off at the protest site, but it was restored later.
As farmers were driven out, Rakesh Tikait , an influential farmer leader from western UP, wept on camera and declared he would not budge.
“They want to destroy farmers, we will not allow this to happen. Either the laws will be taken back, or Tikait will kill himself. This is a conspiracy against farmers…,” he said.
The video clip went viral and resulted in hordes of farmers making an about-turn and returning to Ghazipur to rejoin the protest.
Prashant Kumar, a senior Uttar Pradesh police official, told news agency ANI that UP cops had no intention of evicting the protestors at Ghazipur. “The force build-up last evening at Ghazipur was not to evict anyone but to ensure that no anti-social elements infiltrated the protest. But some people twisted the developments out of proportion,” Mr Kumar said.
This afternoon, there was another flare-up at Singhu at the Delhi-Haryana border, the epicenter of the protests, when a group of over 200 people barged into the protest site, threw stones and vandalized the tents of the protesters.
Two policemen were injured in the sudden violence.
The farmers are demanding that the government cancel three new laws that they believe will hurt their income by taking away guaranteed minimum prices and by leaving them vulnerable to corporates. The government says the laws bring long overdue reforms in the agriculture sector, and will allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country for competitive prices.