Farmers’ bodies firm at Kundli border sit-in, reject attempts by Yogendra Yadav, VM Singh to shift to Burari

Yogendra Yadav at the Kundli border on 27 November. After he tried to convince the farmer leadership to accept the government’s suggestion and move the protest to Burari, Yadav was turned away from its meeting. Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times
30 November, 2020

Farmers’ organisations from Punjab and Haryana leading the ongoing protests against the recently enacted farm bills have rejected attempts by Yogendra Yadav and VM Singh to move the sit-ins from the national highways on Delhi’s periphery to the Burari grounds near the Karnal bypass. Yadav heads the socio-political organisation Swaraj Abhiyan. Singh is the president of the umbrella farmers group, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, or AIKSCC, as well as a former member of legislative assembly. Protesting farmers are in a sit-in at the Delhi-Haryana borders, at Kundli on the Ambala-Delhi national highway, and at Tikri on the Delhi-Hisar national highway. The protests have the support of over three hundred farmers’ organisations from states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.

The thirty-odd farmer organisations of Punjab that are primarily leading the thousands of protesting farmers on the Karnal-Delhi national highway had begun a marathon review meeting on the prevailing situation two days earlier, on 27 November. The organisations had called for a large “Delhi Chalo” rally on 26 and 27 November for an indefinite protest against three controversial farm laws enacted earlier this year. Police in Haryana and on the Delhi border barricaded various major roads to prevent the protesting farmers from reaching the capital. But tens of thousands of farmers stormed these barricades, even as the police attacked them with teargas shells and water cannons.

On 27 November, VM Singh arrived with the Delhi Police, to make an announcement asking the farmers to gather at the Burari grounds instead of the Ramlila Maidan, the scheduled destination. The protestors refused to do so—according to many among them, the grounds will not allow for an effective protest, making it easier for the Narendra Modi-led central government to ignore their demands. The police then lobbed several tear gas shells at the protestors, eventually leading to the current stalemate. 

According to a farmer leader, who heads one of the farmers’ organisations and had attended the marathon review meeting, Yadav was present at the meeting on 27 November, but only for the first ten minutes. He invited trouble for himself by suggesting that the protestors abide by the centre’s suggestion to shift the protest venue, the farmer leader said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said that the attending leaders grilled Yadav and “virtually shooed him away for his suggestion, which had irked us.” Since September, when the bills were passed, Yadav has been issuing public statements on the farm laws and speaking to the media as a pro-farmer voice.

Yadav tried his best to convince the farmer leadership that “reaching up to Burari maidan will be our victory because we wanted to enter Delhi,” the farmer leader said. He recounted that another attending leader told Yadav, “How many trolleys of farmers have you brought in? You didn’t bring in even five cadres and you are suggesting we act on the government’s directives.” 

The next day, Yadav visited the Kundli venue again. He crossed the barricades, and stopped a few hundred metres meters from the stage. He was not asked to speak or address the crowd. Yadav finally opted to talk to the media on the spot. He told an NDTV crew, “Yeh faisla hua hai ki aaj raat ko hum yahi rahenge, kaaran hai ki peeche se humare jathe aa rahe hai”—It has been decided that we will spend another night here, only for the reason that more of our supporters are on their way to join us. “By tomorrow morning, we will decide and move ahead accordingly. Whether to sit here or there is a small question.” Yadav declined to mention that he had been asked to leave the meeting the previous evening. If anything, he gave the impression that he had been part of the decision-making process.

On the evening of 29 November, we saw Yadav standing barely fifty meters away from the venue of the press conference addressed by the Punjab farmers’ leadership. He was listening to the live relay of the media briefing on his phone.

Nirbhay Singh Dhudike, a prominent farmer leader who heads the Kirti Kisan Union, confirmed Yadav’s ouster. “He had come to the meeting to take us to Burari, but we have sent him back,” he said.

Dhudike also condemned the actions of the AIKSCC head VM Singh, who has been going back and forth in his stance on the farmer’s agitation. Singh, a sugarcane baron from Uttar Pradesh, had earlier appealed to the farmers across the country to take back their decision to protest in Delhi in November. On 21 November, Singh, who had recently recovered from COVID-19, said that he had been advised by doctors to remain in quarantine and would not be coming to the national capital. He discouraged others from going to Delhi as well, citing the rising numbers of coronavirus positive cases in Delhi. 

“Where will you stay? How will you all adjust yourselves in tractor trolleys, in cars? It is winter time,” Singh said in a video posted to social media. He suggested that the “kushti,” or fight, over the laws be postponed by six months, by both the Modi government and the agitating farmers.

 On 23 November, he reiterated this stance, suggesting that people protest within their localities instead. “I have tested negative now and now that I look at it… Where will you stay? Where will you sit? What will you eat? Where will you put up a tent? That is why I said, if you come, come on your own, because VM Singh cannot help, because my doctor has said not to,” he told the media. “If someone catches corona, they will go to the shamshaan”— cremation ground. “But the farmers of Punjab are also right in their stance as they face the death knell of farm crisis.”

Four days later, Singh did a volte-face. Seemingly breaking his doctor-advised quarantine, Singh arrived at the Kundli border. He came in a police gypsy and appealed in vain to the crowds to approach the Burari grounds. “Bhaiyo, sarkar ne humein Dilli mein jageh de di hai, Burari mein, chalo Burari,” he said over the microphone of the Delhi police, standing with the police personnel at the barricades. The farmers signalled in refusal from the Haryana side across the barricades. Soon after, security forces launched tear gas shells at them.   

Two days later, Singh situated himself in the Burari grounds, vocal in his support for the Modi government’s proposal to relocate the protest. Via a video posted to social media, he appealed to the farmers to reach Burari. “As is my habit, I have made arrangements … you have wash rooms here, there will also be a langar, all kinds of arrangements have been made here for those who wish to come,” he said.

 “The man who was making videos telling us not to come to Delhi, citing corona, he has now himself has reached Burari,” Dhudike, the Kirti Kisan Union’s head, said. “Coming in a police vehicle and conniving with the government is a very unfortunate thing, a sad state of affairs. We condemn it and will continue our protest.”

Dhudike added, “Jo sarkari leader hain, woh Burari mein jaa rahe hain, joh sarkar virodhi neta hain … woh morchon pe hain. Woh dilli ko gherna chahte hain, jo doosre leader hain woh dilli se ghirna chahte hain”—Those who are with the government are going to Burari and those who are against the government are at the barricades. The latter want to surround Delhi, and the former want to be surrounded by Delhi. “Those who don’t have a trolley … who don’t have any farmers with them, how can they be farmer leaders?” 

When we called Singh, he said, “Those who want to come to Burari can come,” before cutting the phone. We called again, but he only said, “I am in the farmers’ protest and we are celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.” We sent Yadav several queries regarding his view on the centre’s Burari proposal, as well as his ouster. He did not respond to our calls or messages. 

Earlier this evening, Yadav held a separate press conference along with Shiv Kumar Kakka, a former ally of the RSS and the current coordinator of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdur Mahasangh; Gurnam Singh Chaduni, of Haryana’s Bharatiya Kisan Union, and a Khap leader from the state. They reiterated the farmers’ decision to stay put at Kundli. None of these groups are among the thirty Punjab organisations that are leading the protest.