Agitation over farm laws enacted last year returned to center stage on Saturday when Haryana police cracked down on farmers in Karnal, leaving several injured in a lathicharge at the Bastara tollgate on the national highway.
Farmers were protesting a BJP meeting on the upcoming panchayat polls – it was chaired by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Police arrested several people after using force in the afternoon to disperse a crowd that had blocked the highway to Karnal.
Condemning the police action, agricultural union leaders urged farmers in Haryana to protest on the roads.
In the evening, several sections of the highway and toll plazas across the state were blocked by farmers, causing traffic jams.
Traffic was diverted to alternative routes as farmers threatened to create more roadblocks on highways and toll plazas, not only in Haryana but also in neighboring states.
As part of their continued protest against farm laws enacted last year, farmers have occupied nearly all toll booths on national and state highways across Haryana. They allowed traffic without paying tolls.
But after Saturday’s incident in Bastara, the toll plazas of Karnal, Kurukshetra, Panchkula, Fatehabad, Yamunanagar, Jind, Hisar, Rohtak and others were blocked.
The BJP was holding a meeting to formulate the party’s strategy for the upcoming panchayat polls. Several leaders of the Haryana BJP including Khattar, the chairman of the OP Dhankar party, the general secretary Ravindra Raju,
Members of Parliament, Members of Parliament and District Presidents attended the meeting.
Farmers tried to gather in front of the Prem Plaza Hotel in Karnal where the meeting was taking place, but when they could not get there, they blocked the national road at the Bastara tollgate.
They showed black flags to vehicles carrying BJP leaders and even tried to block their way. But due to the heavy police presence, they could not stop the vehicles and continued to throw slogans.
When they refused to lift the blockade of the highway, police used force, charging farmers with lathis and injuring several – they were taken to local hospitals by other protesters.
The blockade of the national road was eventually lifted, but tension began to mount as more and more farmers reached the place, reoccupying the toll booth.
BKU chief Gurnam Singh Chaduni called on farmers across the state to come in large numbers to the Bastara toll booth.
“I appeal to all my brothers to immediately reach the toll booths near their location. If the toll booths are far from their location, they should immediately block nearby highways, ”Chaduni said in a video message.
Chief Minister Khattar told reporters: “Today there was a meeting of the BJP at the state level. I condemn the protest call launched by them (the farmers). Obstructing the program of any organization for any reason is undemocratic. Second, if (the farmers) were to organize a demonstration, they should have done so peacefully. Previously, we had agreed that they would organize peaceful protests. By protesting, if they throw stones at the police and block the highways, the police will also have to do work. If there are atrocities on the part of the police, they will also be punished. But if there is lawlessness on the part of the farmers, legal action will also be taken against them.
ADGP Navdeep Virk said: “At around noon, protesting farmers forcibly blocked the highway and attempted to enter the town of Karnal. When the police officers deployed there told them that they could not move towards the town of Karnal, the demonstrators turned violent and a few of them threw stones at the police. Some even tried to attack the police with shovels etc. The police used moderate force and dispersed them. Information received so far shows that four farmers and 10 police officers have been injured.
“On June 7, we had talks with SKM leaders who assured us in writing that they would not engage in any violent demonstrations in the future and that they would only organize peaceful demonstrations. But there were several cases after that where farmers resorted to violence. Whenever a protest becomes violent, it becomes the duty of the police to maintain public order, ”said Virk.
BJP State President Dhankar, however, said: “The circumstances in which the police used force against protesters need to be further investigated. I have asked the chief minister to review it. Although the cathicharge should not have happened, the farmers should also have protested within the boundaries so that a political party’s platform was not affected.
Opposition leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and leaders of various parties condemned the use of police force against farmers.
In a statement, Hooda said, “This is barbaric. Farmers were demonstrating peacefully at least 15 km from the location of the BJP program. Such action on farmers clearly shows the bad intentions of this state government. There should be an impartial investigation into this whole episode and the culprits should be punished. It has become a habit of this government. First, they deliberately create such circumstances of confrontation, engage the farmers in this confrontation by provoking them, and then attack them mercilessly. “