Opinion | Will obstructing army convoys during Bharat Bandh help the cause of farmers?

rajat sharma aaj ki baat
Image Source : INDIA TV

Opinion | Will obstructing army convoys during Bharat Bandh help the cause of farmers?

The ten-hour Bharat Bandh call given by farmers’ organizations crippled normal life in Punjab and Kerala, and hit millions of commuters in western UP, Haryana and Delhi on Monday. There were massive traffic snarls on Delhi-Gurugram border, while farmers  closed all lanes of Delhi-Meerut Expressway at UP Gate for nearly ten hours.  There were traffic jams at Delhi’s Chilla border, DND flyway and other entry-exit routes, while the entire stretch from Delhi to Kaushambi and Vaishali remained choked throughout the day.

The worst part was that even army convoys and ambulances were not spared by the protesters. In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed how in Jalandhar, Samyukta Kisan Morcha protesters blocked the six-lane highway by setting up tents after allowing traffic for a few hours on three lanes. Half of the army convoy that was passing through Jalandhar, crossed the highway, but the remaining army convoy was blocked by farmer leaders. Protesters blocked the army convoy by parking tractors in front of them. They did not listen to pleas from army jawans to allow them to proceed to take part in a war exercise near the border.

This incident occurred at around 8.30 am near PAP Chowk, Jalandhar. An army officer of Lt. Col. Rank tried to persuade farmer leaders sitting on the highway, but to no avail. Instead, the farmer leaders told the army officer to go through the three farm laws enacted by the Centre. When the army officer pointed out that the convoy was going to take part in war exercises near the border, one of the farmer leaders said, “you take part in war exercise daily, at least spare a day and join our exercise (protest) here”.

After half an hour of wrangling, and phone calls from leaders in Delhi, the rest of the army convoy was allowed to pass. It was really a shameful incident, particularly at a time, when the nation is facing challenges on its borders with Pakistan and China. The strangest part was that Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Rakesh Tikait told India TV that the farmers were not obstructing, “they were asking the army officer about the situation on the border”. Tikait was not only condoning, but defending the action of the protesters.

Not only the army convoy, but millions of common people faced ordeals due to traffic obstructions. On the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway on Monday, there was a 15 to 20 km long traffic jam. India TV reporter Rajiv Kumar noticed an emergency ambulance stuck in the snarl on Mumbai-Thane-Navi Mumbai route for more than two hours. The ambulance was supposed to reach a hospital for a heart transplant case at 9 am. Similar case of an ambulance stuck in a traffic jam was noticed in Palwal, Haryana.

The 16-lane Gurugram-Delhi highway was chock-a-bloc with thousands of cars from both sides trying to proceed at a snail’s pace. Thousands of officegoers had to face travails because of traffic snarls.  Similar scenes were witnessed at Ghaziabad and Noida borders with Delhi, as most of the vehicles were diverted from the highways.

On one hand, thousands of commuters were caught in traffic jams, and on the other hand, BKU chief Rakesh Tikait spent his time sipping tea and having his breakfast. Tikait was seen telling media persons that the Morcha had already told people to take a day’s off on Monday, clubbing with weekend holidays, for a three-day recreation.

State governments in Kerala, Punjab and Maharashtra gave indirect support to the protesting farmers in order to make the bandh a “success”, but the fact remains, that apart from a few states, life in most parts of India was not at all disrupted by Bharat Bandh. 

25 trains had to be cancelled after protesters squatted on railway tracks in some parts of India. In Kozhikode, Kerala, supporters of ruling CPI(M) trade union CITU went on a rampage inside the office of a broadband company, beat up staffers and ransacked the entire office. Reason: the office was open despite a bandh call.

Farmers have the right to stage peaceful protests, but they do not have the right to subject common people to harassment. This has been clarified even by the Supreme Court in some of its judgments. If farmers, as ‘annadatas’ (providers of food) start obstructing army convoys, ambulances and commuters going to offices, what are they going to achieve?

The farmer leaders are adamant over one issue: repeal all the three farm laws. The Centre  carried out 11 rounds of discussions with all farmer leaders. Yet, farmer leaders allege that the government has closed its door for talks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that his doors were open for talks, and he was ready to discuss all the three laws, clause-by-clause, and if any amendments were needed, the Centre was ready. But farmer leaders are stuck with their only stand: first withdraw all the three laws, then we will go for talks. If the laws are repealed, then where is the scope for fresh rounds of talks?

The Supreme Court-appointed a committee of farm experts, but the farmer leaders refused to talk to the committee. The farmer leaders rejected offers from both the Centre and the Supreme Court, and on the other hand, made false allegations of farmers being subject to oppression. The Centre did not use police force against any of the protesting farmers, sitting on dharna for more than 10 months. 

Behind the façade of farmers’ agitation, anti-national elements marched up to the historic Red Fort on Republic Day and insulted our national flag. Even on Monday, several farm protesters were seen using lathis menacingly. Police exercised maximum restraint. The Centre even offered to suspend the new farm laws, which was rejected by farmer leaders.

Many farmers have died because of cold, bad weather, Covid and other causes while sitting on a prolonged dharna. These deaths could have been avoided. But we should find out who are the persons responsible for causing this situation.

Moreover, images and videos of farmers sitting on dharna, and some of them dying, are being flashed across the world. Protests, by so-called farmer supporters, were held in Washington and New York, during the Prime Minister’s recent visit. The main aim was to defame India and Narendra Modi. Is this acceptable?

At a time when our Prime Minister was discussing critical issues with US President Joe Biden, these protesters were sending tweets to the US President, asking him to raise the farmers’ agitation issue with Modi. Nobody took notice of these tweets. But such acts reveal the real aim behind the farmers’ agitation. 

The aim is to tarnish India’s image in the world’s eyes, embarrass Modi and in any case, the objective of such naysayers could never be for the betterment of Indian farmers. Those opposing Modi in India are using the shoulders of farmer leaders to attack the PM. Anti-BJP opposition leaders are using the farmers’ agitation for their own political ends.

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