Beyond Singhu, Tikri & Ghazipur: The Other Farmers’ Morchas
While Singhu, Tikri & Ghazipur got all media attention, smaller morchas united farmers from various regions.
Last year, the Narendra Modi government unconstitutionally passed two farm laws and amended one, triggering wide outrage from farmers, mostly from states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Soon after these laws were passed, farmers’ unions in Punjab mobilised and started protesting. They were later joined by many farmers’ unions from other states.
Farmers from Punjab organised many protest rallies, Rail Roko programmes and sit-ins at the houses of leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). In November last year, farmers started marching towards Delhi borders. Protesters from Punjab were stopped at the Sambhu Border in Haryana, but with some confrontation with the Haryana police, they successfully reached the Singhu border of Delhi.
They were first offered the Burari ground for the protest by the Union government, but many unions rejected the idea, saying, “We can’t go to an open jail, we would rather keep the struggle alive on the road.”
'Problems of Bharat Must be Raised in India'
On 26 November, they started camping at Singhu Border, which is on the Delhi-Sonipat-Chandigarh highway. After two days, farmers from the Malwa region of Punjab and some parts of Haryana came and occupied the space at Tikri border (Delhi-Rohtak highway towards Punjab). Many other morchas (borders) like Shahjahanpur-Kheda, Palwal, Dhansa, Ghazipur and Chilla evolved within a short period of time. These morchas have generously contributed to the farmers’ movement, while facing great difficulties.
In India, sit-ins are not new to the farmers movement. Farmers' leaders like Baba Mahendra Singh Tikait, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Prof Nanjundaswamy, N Ranga Reddy and Sharad Joshi have successfully used this method of protest. Sharad Joshi even believed that unless the problems of Bharat [meaning rural India] were raised forcefully in India [urban areas], there is no possibility of justice for farmers. He always staged protests in urban areas, meaning to impact urban life.
In this article, we look at the contributions of four small dharna sites to the larger farmers’ movement. Apart from Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur morchas, mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to these smaller sit-ins.
Further, most of the farmers’ organisations that were part of these morchas were not members of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha. They also faced more day-to-day difficulties, with local BJP goons regularly disturbing the movement and threatening them.
Social media played a huge role in amplifying the presence of these morchas, and alternative media supported protesters who kept the movement ‘live’ and ‘alive’ in villages.
The Twists & Turns Within Chilla Border Morcha
Chilla border links Delhi to Noida. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) and the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lokshakti) were part of this morcha. Both organisations had a separate manch (platform).
The BKU (Lokshakti) set up its manch at the Dalit Prerna Sthal.
BKU (Bhanu) is led by Thakur Bhanu Pratap Singh. The organisation has influence in many north Indian states, but its main support comes from the middle part of western Uttar Pradesh and lower Doab. Bhanu Pratap was part of BKU (Tikait) till 2013. He was state president of the union when he left Tikait and formed his own union.
BKU (Lokshakti) was formed by Master Shyoraj Singh Bhati in 2018. He, too, was part of BKU (Tikait), but he also left in 2013 along with Bhanu Pratap and joined the latter’s union. He was the national spokesperson of the group, but he soon left and formed the BKU (Lokshakti). He says, “It’s the people in a democracy who bring the country alive, not an individual. That is why we choose to have ‘Lokshakti’(power of the people).”
Both these organisations joined the farm struggle on 2 December. Interestingly, both these groups withdrew from the movement after 26 January and met Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar.
Choudhary Diwakar Singh and Yogesh Pratap (elder son of Bhanu Pratap) were not happy over this decision of Thakur Bhanu Pratap. A fraction of BKU (Bhanu) led by Diwakar Singh joined the Ghazipur morcha after Rakesh Tikait’s emotional appeal aired on national television.
How the Thakur Caste Got Involved
On 27 January, Master Shyoraj Bhati also withdrew from the movement and met Narendra Tomar and demanded that the laws at least be amended, if not repealed. But he, too, was moved by Rakesh Tikait’s appeal and joined him at the Ghazipur morcha. The sit-in at the Chilla border was, thus, over after this.
But this morcha was instrumental in strengthening the movement, as it brought many from the Thakur caste to the struggle. The movement didn’t anymore look like just a Jat farmers-led protest of western Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, many at the morcha believe that the BJP had planted Thakur Bhanu Pratap to join the morcha so that they get inner information about the movement. After his withdrawal from the struggle, Thakur Bhanu Pratap can now be seen speaking against the ongoing farmers’ movement, in general, and Rakesh Tikait, in particular.
Palwal Morcha's Three-Step Struggle
The Palwal morcha was at the Delhi-Faridabad Highway. It evolved through three continuous phases of mobilisation and comprised farmers from Madhya Pradesh and Lower Doab (Agra, Aligarh) of Uttar Pradesh. The first phase of mobilisation was from the farmers of Madhya Pradesh. Their march was stopped by the Uttar Pradesh Police after Dhoulpur. But the farmers stayed put there for three long days and it carried jatthas (dedicated groups) from the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the Narmada Bachao Andolan. After three days of their stay at the Dhoulpur (a district in Rajsthan)-UP Border, they returned.
On 5 December, after breaking all barricades of UP and Haryana police, a jattha consisting of Sikh farmers from Dabra and Bhitarwar (towns in Gwalior) reached Palwal. The main mobilisation was from the districts of Chambal. The organisations that were part of this morcha were the AIKS, the Bundelkhand Kisan Sabha, the Paralkot Kisan Sangh-Bastar, the Kisan Kalyan Sangathan-West Bengal, and the Mewat Kisan Union.
A campaign was launched for local mobilisation and it was driven by farmers in local villages.
The morcha faced a brutal lathi charge from the Haryana police on 26 January. Over 100 farmers were seriously injured and 2,200 were booked by the Haryana police. On the same day, this morcha was forcefully eliminated by the police and local BJP leaders.
This was the third revival phase of this group, where local Khaps (Bhavan Pal) came forward and formed a committee. A public meeting was organised in Palwal city and the morcha was revived on 3 February. The morcha still stands tall and is immovable.
Dhansa Border: High on Culture & Young Energy
The Dhansa border links Delhi to Jhajjar in Haryana. The cultural participation of folk singers and artistes from Haryana is unique to this site. The morcha is situated around the Dhansa toll plaza, which is even now peopled by farmers and has been made toll-free by them.
This group has the sole participation of farmers from local villages of Delhi and Haryana. It started on 7 December and is the only morcha run by Khap panchayats.
The farmers’ movement saw a determined participation from Khaps, which may be one of the reasons why the government was cautious. The police never tried to subvert this group. Run by Guliya Khap Teesha and the Delhi unit of BKU (Tikait), the morcha is near the Tikri border group. It saw the participation of young protesters who put up a show of unity by taking out a bike rally from the Tikri to the Dhansa borders, passing through various villages.
The United Strength at Shahjahanpur-Kheda
This group is on the Delhi-Jaipur highway and is one of the only morchas that is not at the Delhi border, but on the Haryana-Rajasthan border. The morcha was established very late, on 12 December, due to the district council elections in Rajasthan. It is led by the All India Kisan Sabha, the Jat Mahasabha, the Jai Kisan Aandolan, the Ganga Nagar Kisan Sabha, and the Mewat Kisan Union. The group saw heavy participation of farmers from districts in northern Rajasthan, especially Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh. Notably, both these districts share a border with Punjab.
The morcha became the political epicentre in Rajasthan politics when Hanuman Beniwal, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MP from Nagaur, withdrew his support from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and joined the protest here. The withdrawal was triggered by the continuous pressure exerted by Jat Leaders and the AIKS, which was leading the movement in the state. What distinguishes this morcha is that farmers from almost 20 states have joined it to protest the three farm laws, and that has happened because of the national character of AIKS.
(The authors are co-editors of Trolley Times, a newspaper affiliated with the ongoing farmers’ protest.)
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