The call for a Bharat Bandh given by farmer organisations and supported by worker unions, progressive organisations and other civil society groups met with an unprecedented response on Monday, with people coming out in support across religious, caste, regional and political differences.

In Punjab and Haryana, life came to a standstill early in the morning with roads and rail traffic being halted by the protestors. Reports of demonstrations and protests echoed from village after village, with similar reports pouring in from Uttar Pradesh and other states.

Farmer organisations shared pictures of protests from places like Bazpur in Uttarakhand, Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Siliguri in West Bengal, Ranchi in Jharkhand, Purnea in Bihar, and parts of Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and other states.

The Bandh marked the completion of 10 months of the farmers’ protest outside the national capital. They have been camping at the gates of Delhi all this while, angry at the “arrogant and inhuman” attitude of a Union government that refuses to negotiate with them although over 600 people have died in the course of these protests.

In these months the movement against the “pro-corporate” farm laws and labour codes has spread from Punjab to neighbouring Haryana and to western Uttar Pradesh, where it is threatening to shake the political establishment.

The Bandh came on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States where he addressed the United Nations General Assembly. His visit was marked by protests and demonstrations in support of India’s farming community, and reportedly it was not just the Sikh or Indian organisations that were protesting, there were participants from the other countries as well.

While completely buried by the controlled media, back home this news has buoyed the farming community and its supporters.

“We are proud of the fact that our movement has made a mark internationally as has been witnessed in the last few days in America once again. The lies being spread by the government and its propagandists including the embedded media have come undone time after time,” said Narayan Dutt of the Inquilabi Kendra Punjab who has been instrumental in mobilising people in Barnala and surrounding areas of Punjab.

“Contrary to what is being falsely circulated about the interest of the people waning in the movement, it is for everyone to see that the enthusiasm stands increased manifold. There is hardly any village in Punjab and Haryana that is not supporting the Bandh. People understand that is a long fight and like on occasions in the past are ready to fight the injustice,” said Dutt.

According to reports Punjab was to witness demonstrations and protests at no less than 400 places across the state.

In neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, even those affiliated to the BJP came out to support the Bandh, which was symbolic in certain places like Solan where the markets were closed for two hours in support of the farmers’ demands.

“We need to understand that farmers and traders are two wheels of the same chariot. The traders depend on the income of the farmers. If the farmers get good returns from their produce, the traders also prosper when they spend in the market,” said Pankaj Verma, sharing an appeal made by the Vyapar Mandal Solan traders organisation.

There were reports of demonstrations across the other parts of the state that is already witnessing massive unrest among apple producers at the peak of the harvest season as reported by The Citizen. Horticulturists say the whole model of corporate subsidy by public bodies that results in exploitation of the producer has come unravelling in Himachal Pradesh.

Haryana too has been witnessing a surge in anger among all sections of society against both the Union government and the Manohar Lal Khattar led BJP government in the state.

“The enthusiasm in supporting this people’s movement is more than the expectation as the reach of the movement has increased across the country. It is no longer a movement just confined to farmers,” said Inderjeet, a leader of the All India Kisan Sabha.

“In Haryana the rate of unemployment stands at 35.7% according to the recent data of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. This is bound to frustrate the educated youth that came out in very large numbers during the programs organised by the farmers to mark Independence Day this year.

“Then the farmers are looking at huge losses on account of the recent unseasonal rains that have damaged paddy, cotton, jowar, bajra and sugarcane crops. They are looking at a Diwala (economic crisis) before Diwali (festival time when they spend) as the damage comes after the farmers have made their investments,” he said.

In this primarily agrarian state, Inderjeet explained, “Another reason for the farmers movement continuing to gather steam is the potential dissensions within the ruling BJP and Jannayak Janata Party alliance becoming visible, where there are voices rising in support of the farmers.

“Secondly the anger against the leaders of the ruling alliance, particularly the BJP continues to rise as they face protests wherever they go.”

In its appeal to people the umbrella Samyukta Kisan Morcha stated:

“As you know, this historic struggle is about repealing these three laws and for securing statutory entitlement of guaranteed remunerative minimum support price (MSP) for all farmers and all agricultural produce.

“At the same time, this protest is now at the centre of a national movement to prevent corporate capture of our economy, safeguard national assets, save federalism, reclaim democracy and defend the unity of India.”

“In particular, we appeal to all organisations of workers, traders, transporters, businessmen, students, youth and women and all social movements to extend solidarity with the farmers.

“We also call upon all political parties and state governments, many of whom have endorsed our earlier calls and passed resolutions supporting the movement, to lend their support to this Bharat Bandh and stand with the farmers in their quest to defend principles of democracy and federalism.

“Following our established policy, representatives of political parties shall not share the SKM stage.”

Photographs DANISH PANDIT for The Citizen