At the stroke of midnight on Friday, March 5, farmers protesting the three agricultural laws at Delhi’s borders will usher in the 100th day of their sit-in demonstration.
On November 25, 2020, farmers, to pressurise the Union Government, decided to march towards the national capital under the ‘Dilli Chalo’ campaign.
However, it is on Saturday, March 6, the umbrella organisation spearheading the movement, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), has proposed a five-hour blockade of the Western Peripheral Expressway.
Because this day marks the hundredth since thousands of farmers physically reached Delhi’s border and sat in protest on November 26, 2020.
Farmers will block traffic at several places on the six-lane, 135.6 km KMP (Kundli–Manesar–Palwal) Expressway in Haryana between 11 AM and 4 PM.
According to a Morcha volunteer coordinating the event, both the dates were deliberated. Several points were considered before finalising the day for the blockade.
However, he did not share the details of “points for consideration”.
Tactical moves, if any, are being kept closely guarded. In a game resembling chess, the Centre has managed to come out of some checkmate situations and now occupy a strategic position on the board.
After 11 rounds of meetings, which included an offer for shelving the laws another 18 months and facilitate negotiations, the government can say: we offered a truce, but they remain adamant.
There is no moving back the laws, it has been categorically stated. Only amendments will be accepted, the Centre has clarified. And despite oral assurances, there is no indication of legalising MSP.
The farmers are treading a careful line. Any aggressive campaign will not augur well for their cause. The clashes and the Red Fort incidence on Republic Day still stand against them.
Creating pressure through actions like destroying standing crops, if any, has gone against the interest of small farmers.
Thus, the reach-out for more support. Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait and others have addressed several ‘Mahapanchayats’ in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Such meetings will be held at several places in the country till March 24.
The narration has stuck that the protestors are only from Punjab and Haryana. There is a “look South” attempt that has been successful in attracting a few farmers from Tamil Nadu to Delhi’s borders.
Also, the Samyukta Horata Karnataka – a conglomerate of different organisations and individuals – is going to organise a farmers’ conference in Kalaburagi on Friday, March 5.
A farmers’ march is also being organised from various districts of Karnataka to reach Bengaluru on March 22 and lay siege to the Vidhana Soudha.
Farmer leaders from Delhi – including the poster boy of the struggle, Rakesh Tikait himself – are expected to be present that day.
Elsewhere, ‘Mahapanchayats’ have been graced by opposition leaders like Priyanka Gandhi.
Despite the initial distancing from political parties and netas, there seems to be some compromise. SKM leaders will now even visit states where assembly elections will be held, beginning later this month.
One such public meeting is scheduled to be held in Kolkata on March 12. "We will not seek votes for any party but will appeal to vote for candidates who can defeat the BJP which has failed to address farmers' issues," claim farmer leaders.
Meanwhile, the SKM has also agreed to coordinate joint action programmes with a platform of central trade unions.
On March 15, the Morcha will join trade unions holding demonstrations before railway stations to observe “anti-privatisation day”. Similar programmes are scheduled between March 15 and 18.
And the Trade Unions would extend their support in the Expressway blockade.
It is all an effort to garner as much support as possible.
Rakesh Tikait is aware the government is not going to accede. His rhetoric of continuing the agitation till October 2, if needed, was meant to assure followers that a strategy is firmly in place.
It was also meant as a message to the Centre that he has more aces in hand. He is not throwing down the cards soon.
An effort at castling the king.
But the days are getting longer. And ahead lies a long summer of disquiet.