The Railways is gearing up for the four-hour ‘rail roko’ agitation on Thursday (February 18) by farmers agitating against the new farm laws. It has deployed 20,000 personnel of the Railways Protection Special Force (RPSF) across the country, particularly in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Several trains have been diverted or cancelled in Punjab as the majority of the protesting farmers are from the state and Haryana.
In an effort to pressure the central government to repeal the three “black laws”, and bring back the nation’s attention to them, the agitating farmers, who have been on a war-path with the government for 84 days now, are in no mood to back down. Though, their morale was briefly crushed after the Republic Day parade fracas, their movement was revived shortly after.
The ‘rail roko’ agitation will be held from 12 pm to 4 pm on Thursday. This blockade was been announced last week by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farmers’ unions spearheading the agitation and conducting talks with the Centre.
The farmers have held major demonstrations earlier too as part of their agitation, including the ‘kisan tractor parade’ on January 26 and the nationwide ‘chakka jam’ on February 6.
The central government and the farmers have held 11 rounds of talks so far — the last was on January 22 — but they failed to end the deadlock. The government had offered to defer the implementation of the laws by 18 months, but the farmers are not keen on concessions. No discussion has taken place in the wake of the violence during the ‘kisan tractor parade’ in Delhi on January 26.
Director General of Railway Protection Force Arun Kumar has appealed to everyone to maintain peace, NDTV reported. Announcing that 20 additional companies of the RPSF — 20,000 personnel — will be deployed, he said: “We will liaison with district administrations and will have a control room in place.” The force will gather intelligence and focus on some states like Punjab, Haryana, UP and West Bengal, he said.
“We want to persuade them to not cause inconvenience for passengers. We have a four-hour window and we want it (rail roko) to get over peacefully,” Kumar said.
This rail roko agitation has been planned as farmers are keen to keep up the momentum of their protests against the government. They have also organised “mahapanchayats” to be addressed by farmer leader Rakesh Tikait in a few states to garner support for the movement.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni has said that farmer unions will target poll-bound West Bengal as well and hold meetings there to convince people not to vote for those who are “snatching our livelihood”.
Interestingly, the ruling Congress in Punjab, which has backed the agitation, registered a comprehensive win in the state local body elections, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was wiped out.
International opinion too seems to favour the farmers. More than 40 lawyers of south Asian descent have written an open letter to US President Joseph Biden, asking him to take note of the farmers’ protests and the methods taken up by the Centre to repress them, The Wire reported.