Friday, February 26, 2021

Punjab villages sombre after clash, still back stir

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Tarn Taran/Patiala/Sangrur/ludhiana

Located roughly six kilometers from the holy city of Tarn Taran in northern Punjab, Piddi village has been in the limelight for decades as the home of Satnam Singh Pannu, a 65-year-old farm leader who founded the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), an organisation of farmers and labourers with sway in the Majha region.

Pannu formed the organisation in 2007 after breaking away from the larger Kisan Sangharsh Committee and rapidly mobilised support. Though he has lived in Tarn Taran city for two decades, his hold over the region’s farm politics is unmatched, largely through the influence of his two brothers — Gurnam Singh who manages the family’s 30 acres of land holdings, and Jasbir Singh, who is an official in the board of the local agriculture market.

But on Wednesday, as news spread that Pannu’s men were among those leading the violence and vandalism on Delhi’s streets on Republic Day, local residents turned increasingly critical of his organisation. Delhi Police also blamed Pannu for provocative speeches.

“KMSC should have followed the four routes approved by the Delhi Police. A small mistake of the union has sabotaged the entire agitation,” said Jaimail Singh, a villager who returned from the Delhi border on Tuesday.

KMSC is the smaller of the two formations protesting at the Singhu border, and was blamed for breaking through barriers and deviating from a pre-determined route to unleash violence on Tuesday. Around 300 people from the village were camping at Delhi’s borders as part of the agitation.

Another farmer, Vikram Singh, who returned from Delhi on Wednesday, said, “The farmers and the labourers should boycott the KMSC. We are hearing that the union acted at the behest of a political party to sabotage the struggle.”

They weren’t the only ones. Across Punjab’s hinterlands – especially in the home villages of senior farm leaders – there was disappointment over the violence that farm protesters unleashed when they broke through barricades, clashed violently with police, ran riot on the Capital’s streets and stormed the Red Fort, hoisting the Nishan Sahib, the flag of the Sikhs, on its ramparts. Despite the anger, many villagers said their faith in the months-long stir against three recently passed farm laws was unshaken.

“The image of the protest has been dented but we are sure that we will bounce back as we are led by leaders who actually care for our rights,” said Inderjeet Singh, chief of Ranbirpura village, which is home to Darshan Pal, the state president of Krantikari Kisan Union.

At least 20 tractor trolleys returned to the village, situated 10 km from Patiala, after the Republic Day tractor rally. The returnees said they felt dejected about the violence at Red Fort, but believed the clashes exposed saboteurs. They also pointed to Pal’s strong condemnation of the violence. Delhi Police alleged Pal was complicit in farmers deviating from the pre-determined route on Tuesday.

“We have not done anything wrong. We are serious about our demands and will fight till the government repeals these acts,” said farmer Avtar Singh, calling on protesters to remain calm. Pal currently lives in Patiala and owns 18 acres of land in the village.

The mood was more upbeat at Ugrahan, the home village of Joginder Singh Ugrahan, chief of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta- Ugrahan) located 27km from Sangrur. Local residents hailed the veteran leader’s political vision and commitment to peace, and alleged that violence was inflicted by infiltrators – an assertion that is not supported by any proof till now.

“The religious flag created controversy. However, if it was a flag of farmer union, it would have represented peasantry’s struggle. We used to participate in the protests and will join again,” said Satgur Singh, a local resident. Another resident, Amrik Singh, said Ugrahan was a visionary who ran the farmers movement peacefully. Whenever he will give another call, we will march to Delhi,” he added.

But the residents at Rajewal, the native village of farm leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, were more somber. A tense calm prevailed as local villagers condemned both Delhi Police for mentioning union leaders in FIRs and those protesters who incited violence in the Capital.

“Yes, our agitation has received a major setback. We have to regroup and start afresh because if at this juncture we fall apart, then we will end up losing everything we have,” said Kuldip Singh Rajewal, a local farmer. Most of the residents of the village located roughly 50 km from Ludhiana are camped at the Singhu border, and the rest directed their ire at Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu and Pannu.

“The entire world was looking at us with awe and appreciating our peaceful agitation. But people like Pannu and Sidhu jeopardised the Republic Day tractor parade,” said Tarlochan Singh, with tears in his eyes.

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