The farmer protest entered its 19th day on December 14 with a renewed vigour and call for demonstrations across the country. As per a plan to intensify the agitation against the new farm laws, heads of 32 farmer unions began a nine-hour hunger strike today at various borders, where tens of thousands of farmers from nearby states have congregated demanding nothing less than the repeal of the three contentious agricultural laws.

On Sunday evening, farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni told reporters at the Singhu border, “The leaders of all farmers associations protesting against the new farm laws will observe a hunger strike on Monday demanding complete repeal of the laws. They will observe the strike from their respective places. Besides, dharnas will be held at all district headquarters across the country on Monday.” The hunger strike began at 8 am today and is scheduled to continue till 5 pm this evening.

Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal extended his support to the farmers and tweeted that he would be joining them in the hunger strike. "Fasting is pure. Wherever you are, please fast for our farmer brothers. Pray to god that they succeed as they struggle. In the end, they'll win for sure," he tweeted.

Speaking about the hunger strike, Balkaran Singh Brar, Working President, All India Kisan Sabha, Punjab told ANI, "The Centre is being stubborn about our demands. This is an attempt to wake them up."

Ashok Dhawale, President of All India Kisan Sabha, told The Citizen that the hunger strike and demonstrations in the cold Delhi winter air are a form of the “Gandhian method”, representing “self-infliction of pain.” ““Fasting is a way to show the government...All of us are suffering, we are not inflicting suffering on anybody else...Actually the government should see reason from all this,” he said.

While the hunger strike continues at various points along the Delhi border, lakhs of farmers in the rest of the country will be holding large demonstrations, dharnas and morchas at the tehsil and district levels, Dhawale said. “Already we have gotten reports from Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra, Maharashtra—everywhere demonstrations have already started,” he stated.

With several rounds of talks between the Centre and heads of farmer unions having reached no conclusion, the farmer leaders’ call to intensify protests has only gotten louder. Home Minister Amit Shah also held a meeting with farmer leaders, offering amendments to the laws and written assurances. However, the farmers continue to demand the complete withdrawal of the three farm laws.

On December 13, farmers began a tractor march from Shahjahanpur on the Rajasthan-Haryana border, responding to a call to block the Delhi-Jaipur highway. The call was initially issued for Saturday but the ‘Dilli March’ was put off till Sunday. According to reports, the highway opened partially after three hours of remaining closed to traffic.

Those leading the march included activist Medha Patkar and National President of Swaraj India, Yogendra Yadav among others.

Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers from Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and other states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat were making their way towards Delhi when they were stopped by the Haryana police at the Rewari border on Sunday, reported The Hindu. The farmers staged a sit-in protest on the Delhi-Jaipur highway after they were stopped from progressing further.

Dhawale stated that the farmers movement has been historic due to farmer organisations subscribing to different ideologies coming together under one banner to demand the repeal of the laws.

“Farmers are increasing. Every ideology is represented among farmer organisations—Left, Right, Centre, everybody is there. And that's a historic thing. All these 500 organisations coming together with this one point idea of the repeal of the laws,” he told The Citizen.

Around 32 farmer organisations distanced themselves from Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) and the protest held by the organisation on December 10, demanding the release of activists such as Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao, reported The Indian Express. Passing a joint resolution, the 32 unions stated, “The function organised by BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) has no relation with the farmers' struggle. Their action has harmed the farmers’ struggle.”

BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) leaders, in turn distanced themselves from the hunger strike today. Sukhdev Singh, Punjab general secretary of the organisation told PTI, “We will not participate (in one-day hunger strike).”

BJP leaders have accused the opposition of running propaganda programs, with Union MInister Piyush Goyal reportedly stating that the agitation had been infiltrated by “Leftists and Maoist elements”.

Condemning the attempts to discredit the protests, Dhawale stated, “The absolutely condemnable narratives that they are now starting which we saw earlier also—’Khalistani’, ‘Pakistan’, ‘China’. All of that is not washing now, it is very clear. So now they have come to their old thing of ‘Leftist’, ‘Urban Naxal’. It is utterly nonsensical, and that is not going to wash now.”

While reports suggest another talk between the Centre and the farmer leaders is in the offing, Dhawale stated that the government has “not given any invitation so far”. “The question remains a basic one, they are going to call for talks and do what? If they are only going to say those same old rehashed things, that will not be acceptable to the farmer organisations,” he said.

Cover Photograph Anica Mann