On 1 January 2021, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha announced that a decision to move the Shahjahanpur farmers’ protests, on the Rajasthan-Haryana border, to Delhi’s border will be taken in the coming week. During the press conference, Yogendra Yadav, one of the leaders of the Shahjahanpur protests, said that the decision would be based how the talks with the central government progress. Yadav was striking a reconciliatory note, as a group of farmers from the Shahjahanpur site broke through police barricades on the afternoon of 31 December 2020, in an attempt to march to Delhi. The Rewari police had deployed tear-gas shells and water cannons against the contingent of around five hundred farmers. Several farmers told me that farmers’ leaders, such as Yadav had rejected their plea to march towards Delhi the previous evening. They said that as they tried to break the barricades, some leaders labelled them as “anti-social elements,” and used the protest stage to declare that they were not farmers—this was what triggered the police action.
The farmers said that the police lathi-charged them too. The deputy superintendent of Bawal, a town in Haryana’s Rewari district, Rajesh Kumar denied that the police beat up the protesters and told me that no one was injured in the police action. However, I confirmed that at least three farmers were injured in the lathi charge. One of them, a farmer named Gurjeet, has sustained head injuries.
After one group of farmers broke through the police cordon on 31 December, around fifteen hundred farmers were still camped at the Shahjahanpur border. A farmer named Akashdeep told me, “Due to the police action, we could not go with the farmers who went ahead. So many of our supplies and colleagues were left behind.” Akashdeep had been assigned langar duty at the protest site. On the evening of 1 January, even as the Morcha’s press conference was going on—the Morcha is an umbrella outfit of around forty organisations that is spearheading the farmers’ protests—Akashdeep said that 30 tractors packed up supplies and moved ahead from the Shahjahanpur site to join with the first group at Sangwari Chowk, in Rewari city.
Apart from the contingent that moved on 1 January, I counted at least 46 tractors—several of them had at least two trolleys attached, filled with rations and other supplies—that broke through the barricades at around 2.30 pm on the new year’s eve and moved towards Sangwari Chowk. Most of the famers who broke the police cordon and marched towards Delhi are from the Ganganagar and Hanumangarh districts of Rajasthan. Pawandeep Singh, a farmer from the Romana Chak village in Hanumangarh, was among them. He told me, “Our people from Punjab and Haryana were telling us that instead of sitting so far away from the protests, sit in Gurgaon, on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.” He said that on 30 December, the farmers of Ganganagar and Hanumangarh held discussions and decided to break the barricades planted by the Haryana police on the Shahjahanpur border, and go to Delhi.
As I spoke to the farmers, most of them expressed a sense of impatience and frustration with the leadership, their decision making and their inaction. Pawandeep said, “What is the point of sitting here? It makes sense for us to move ahead. We have just been sitting here for fifteen to twenty days.” He added, “On the evening of 30 December, we farmers asked Yogendra Yadavji to march to Delhi. He said he is not in favour of marching ahead. We again asked him that ‘if we break the barricades and move ahead, will you support us?’ He flatly refused.”