Hundreds of thousands of protesters on Monday prepared to enter the national capital on Republic Day on tractors to take out a mega farmers’ parade — one, they contend, will rival the spectacle of the official celebrations on the Rajpath boulevard in pomp and pageantry — even as the leaders of the agitation said they will follow up with a march on foot to Parliament on February 1, when the government presents the Union budget.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha said that while the Republic Day rally is planned as a one-day event, the scale of the protest could mean that the rally could spill over to the next day by the time they return to their starting spots located at three different rally routes in and around the Capital.
The police say about 30,000 tractors are likely to participate in the rally, but farm leaders said the number of vehicles will be closer to 200,000. The farm unions, however, have promised not to veer from the three routes — centered around the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders — agreed to with the Delhi Police.
“We will march towards Parliament on foot from different locations on the Budget day on February 1. As far as tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) tractor rally is concerned, it will give the government an idea of our strength and they will know the agitation is not just limited to Haryana or Punjab but it is an agitation of the whole country,” said Darshan Pal, a farm union leader.
He said the agitation will continue till the demand of repealing three contentious farm laws is met. The government and farm unions have not been able to find a solution to the stand-off over 11 rounds of talks, and the farmers last week rejected a far-reaching proposal by the Centre to put the laws on hold for 18 months. Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Monday reiterated that farmers should accept the government’s proposal to suspend the laws. “The government has given the best offer to farmers’ unions. I am hopeful that they will convey their decision to us after discussing it among themselves,” he told reporters.
Delhi Police have allowed Tuesday’s parade to cover a length of 194km on stretches crossing the three principal border points that have become protest sites over the last two months. The “farmers’ Republic Day parade” is the outcome of a months-long protest by farm unions against the three farm laws pushed by the Centre, and farmers say their event will be unique.
The police said thousands of security personnel have been deployed at several border points to maintain law and order during Tuesday’s parade. The Delhi Traffic Police asked commuters to avoid routes where protesting farmers will conduct the rally.
The farmers will also hold tractor marches from four places on the Haryana-Rajasthan border but these won’t enter Delhi.
At the Tikri and Singhu border camps, the two largest farmers’ congregation points, farmers were busy preparing for their own Republic Day cultural spectacle. In the coppery light of a fading wintry sun, wheat-grower Manjit Singh Brar flashed a ‘V’ sign as he mounted a flagstaff on his glimmering brass-and-chrome-lined tractor.
Wearing a turban in the colours of the national flag, he then roared on a video call: “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” (hail soldiers, hail farmers), a popular slogan coined by the country’s second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Yogendra Yadav, one of the organisers of the farmers’ protests, said: “We have always seen Jai Jawan (victory to soldiers) on Republic Day. This time we will see Jai Kisan (victory to farmers) too. This will be a historic occasion.” His comment referred to the official celebrations which ceremoniously figure in a two-hour parade that showcases the country’s military might and cultural diversity.
Farmer leaders have appealed to those participating in the tractor parade to carry enough ration for 24 hours and ensure that the rally remains peaceful. “No one should carry any weapon or consume alcohol. Banners carrying provocative messages are not allowed,” a leader said.
The farm unions have pressed on with a protest against the Centre, opposing the agricultural laws that ease restrictions in farm trade, allow traders to stockpile large quantities of food stocks for future sales, and lay down a national framework for contract farming based on written agreements. The farmers say the laws will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
At Singhu and Tikri, which have become virtual tent cities, resembling a fair, with all possible amenities, such as 24-hour tea stalls, music sessions, prayer halls, canteens, gyms, libraries and now tractor fitment-and-polishing centres, the farmers could be seen preparing for the rally.
Gulab Singh, who has modified his tractor for ₹600,000, said: “Urban children who have never been to villages will see a glimpse of what farming is like and what rural life is all about.” The vehicle has been flamboyantly decorated and dazzles in chrome, has a 10-speaker stereo system, coordinated LED lights and GPS, which will guide him through his parade route.
Each procession of tractors will be led by a car that will act as a pilot vehicle, seating leaders of the movement such as Darshan Pal, Balbir Singh Rajewal and Kavitha Kuruganti.
In one trolley, a team of six contortionists will make an acrobatic presentation, each contortion representing a food-crop plant.
Farmer-artistes from Bengal have set up a mobile installation to pay a poignant tribute to over 100 farmers who have died in the protests, including Sant Ram Singh, a Sikh cleric who fatally shot himself on December 16. “It will be a major attraction and will pay a tribute to all our farmer brothers who have lost their lives in this agitation,” said Bolin Bhattacharya, who refused to reveal details of the artwork, preferring to keep it a surprise.
Tableaux of folk dances of Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan will be led by women, said Revati, a farmer who goes by one name.