Bharat Bandh: Massive Response, 'Larger Than Just A Farmer's Movement'
Outpouring of 'pent up anger'
The call for a Bharat Bandh on December 8 by farmer organisations leading the movement against the three farm laws witnessed a massive response from various sections of society with large protests being reported from many states.
Support for the farmers poured in from opposition parties, trade and transport unions, artist communities and bar associations among others. Farmer leaders termed the bandh “successful” and stated that the demand for the repeal of the three agricultural laws and the Electricity Bill, 2020 remains the same.
“The bandh was surprisingly successful,” stated Avik Saha, secretary of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and National General Secretary of Swaraj India. “I will be the first to confess that we did not expect this response. What is more striking to me is that sections of the population and working people who we never contacted or we did not have any communication with came out in support of the bandh in huge numbers,” he told The Citizen.
Giving the example of daily wage workers in Maharashtra who supported the strike, Saha said, “For them to give up one day’s income is to suffer a lot of hardship.”
“Auto-rickshaw wallahs in Delhi and many other cities came out on strike. More than 1000 bar associations, in tehsils and districts, struck work in support and solidarity with farmers,” he stated, adding that while trade unions did not call a formal strike, they took out marches in support of the agitating farmers.
“The Bharat Bandh was excellent in almost all parts of the country. People gave overwhelming support to the farmers' cause all over India,” Ashok Dhawale, President of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) told The Citizen. “Most cities, towns and rural areas remained closed. Crores of farmers and workers from all over the country came on to the streets,” he said.
According to a press release by AIKSCC—an umbrella organisation comprising over 200 farmer organisations—more than 50 lakh people participated in over 20,000 locations within India to make the bandh successful. While 90 percent of public life came to a standstill in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Punjab and West Bengal, the bandh was widely observed with rallies and dharnas being organised in 22 states, the statement claimed.
While issuing the call for the bandh, farmer leaders had stated that emergency services would not be affected and participation in the bandh would be “voluntary”.
While over 15 political parties extended their support to the agitation, farmer unions had also attempted to distance themselves, emphasising that the call for Bharat Bandh was apolitical and issued by farmers. With accusations being raised that the farmer’s agitation had been politicised by the opposition for their gain, leaders belonging to the opposition had stated that they would stay away from the protest sites.
"It is a conscious decision on our part to stay away from the protest sites. The farmer groups themselves also told us that they would want it this way. So, we have no party banners at the protest sites. However, our MPs are there, as parliamentarians, to show solidarity. We do not want to politicise the issue. It's not just the Left parties, but all opposition has taken this call that except MPs no leader will join the farmers," CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told PTI.
Several mandis in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh remained shut yesterday. Commercial establishments were closed. State and national highways along with certain railway lines were blocked by protestors. While bank unions extended their solidarity to farmers, they did not participate in the bandh. According to reports, All India Bank Employees’ Association stated that while bank operations will not be hit, union members would wear black badges while on duty and stage protests before or after work hours.
Along with industrial workers, transport workers, students and public intellectuals, the countrywide protests were joined by fishermen, adivasis, stone quarry and sand mine workers, sharecroppers and tenant farmers, added the AIKSCC statement.
A separate statement by All India Kisan Sabha said that due to local body elections in Kerala, the bandh was not observed in the state but massive demonstrations were nevertheless organised in front of central government offices, with traders shutting shops as well.
“The historic response to the Bandh is a resolute message to the BJP Government and Prime Minister Modi that the anti-farmer acts have to be withdrawn and the united movement will continue till the demand is accepted,” read the AIKS statement.
“Whether the bandh was successful or not, the answer to that has been given by the Home Minister of India. Because by 3 o’clock, seeing the extent of support to the bandh and the bandh itself, he requested a meeting with the farmer leaders,” Saha told The Citizen.
14 farmer leaders reportedly met Union Home Minister Amit Shah yesterday at 7 pm, a day before the sixth round of ongoing farmer-government talks scheduled to take place today, on December 9.
Before the meeting with the Home Minister, ANI quoted farmer leader Rudru Singh Mansa at the Singhu border: "There is no midway. We will demand just 'yes' or 'no' from the Home Minister at today's meeting."
AIKSCC and AIKS, in their statements, further condemned the “undemocratic steps” taken by certain state governments during the bandh where several people were detained as a precautionary measure.
“State Govts of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana unleashed massive repression and made hundreds of preventive arrests as well as during protests. Still several parts of these states saw people coming out and voicing their support to the farmers. Gujarat Govt has even issued a gag order over social media posts,” AIKSCC’s statement read.
Demanding the release of all those detained, the organisation added that the “voice of people cannot be muffled by barbaric and illegal use of state power.”
Reiterating the success of the bandh, AIKSCC’s secretary Saha stated that the bandh also revealed the “level of pent-up anger among all sections.”
“We thought it was a farmer’s movement. We are quickly realising it is larger than that,” he told The Citizen.
“The political parties are also realising it,” he said, adding that opposition leaders will be meeting President Ram Nath Kovind today to raise their concerns regarding the three contentious agricultural laws.