The call for 'Bharat Bandh' on Tuesday by farmers took the national centre stage as their push for a repeal of the new agri laws disrupted life in myriad ways. In several states, shops were closed, transport affected and protesters squatted on roads and train tracks, though many states remained largely unaffected.
Emergency services were exempted and banks, too, continued operations as the pan-India shutdown, backed by most opposition parties and trade unions, rolled out noisily but peacefully with its impact felt in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, the epicentre of the snowballing protests, as well as in states such as Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar.
In several parts of the country, including in BJP-ruled Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, life continued unimpeded. In other places, the pandemic appeared to recede into the background. Security was stepped up, restive crowds demonstrated in some places and the numbers swelled at Delhi's border points. Protesters also blocked railway tracks in places in West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
From the Rajasthan capital Jaipur, where 'mandis' were closed but shops open, there were reports of clashes between workers of the state's ruling Congress and the BJP. In Delhi, where most main markets were open, tension spiralled with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleging that Delhi Police had put Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal under house arrest.
City police denied the claim but the party stuck to its guns and said the move was a response to Kejriwal meeting protesting farmers at the Singhu border. "If I was not stopped, I would have gone and supported the protesting farmers in their 'Bharat Bandh' movement. I am glad that 'Bharat Bandh' was a success," Kejriwal said.
Farmer unions had threatened to block national highways and occupy toll plazas across the country during a 'chakka jam' protest from 11 am to 3 pm. All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah described the shutdown as a show of strength by the farmers. "We are standing by our demand that we want a complete repeal of the three laws and will not accept any cosmetic changes? If our demands are not met, we are ready to take our agitation to the next level," Mollah said.
The protesting farmers fear the new laws will pave the way for eliminating the safety of the Minimum Support Price cushion and do away with 'mandis', leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The government maintains the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
Opposition parties are expected to meet President Ram Nath Kovind on December 9 (Wednesday) evening to raise their concerns about the three farm laws. "Leaders from different political parties (those opposing the farm bills) will sit, discuss and take a collective stand on the contentious farm laws before meeting President Ram Nath Kovind," NCP chief Sharad Pawar told reporters.
The political faultlines deepened. The BJP, in turn, slammed the opposition parties for its support to the shutdown, saying they are resorting to spreading confusion over issues to "stoke the fire" after being unable to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar noted that many states ruled by them had introduced contract farming and criticised their stand against the farm laws and their backing for the 'bandh'.
Farmers from Punjab and also Haryana have been the drivers of the movement against the laws. In both states, shops and commercial establishments were closed as were thousands of fuel pumps. Farmers assembled at highways and other key roads in both states since morning. All major parties in Punjab--the ruling Congress, AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal -- extended their support.
Over 50,000 government employees took mass casual leave in support of farmers, said Punjab Civil Secretariat Staff Association president Sukhchain Khaira. In neighbouring BJP-JJP ruled Haryana, the opposition Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal backed the call.
In West Bengal, where the ruling Trinamool Congress joined the Congress and the Left in supporting the shutdown but stayed away from enforcing it, the response was mixed. Railway tracks were blocked in several places and there were sit-ins on major roads. Life was hit in Bihar too with train tracks, highways and inner roads teeming with protesters as opposition parties extended their support.
Train services were also affected in Odisha as activists of farmers' organisations, trade unions and political parties held sit-ins on tracks in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Bhadrak and Balasore. Elsewhere in the state, ruled by the Biju Janata Dal, normal life was hit with markets and offices shut and Congress and Left supporters blocking major roads.
Major cities in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh were deserted with most business establishments closed and public transport keeping away.
In Maharashtra, where the ruling Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine extended its support, wholesale markets in major cities like Pune, Nashik and Nagpur were shut. Retail shops also downed shutters in many cities.
Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) were closed in many parts of the state. The state government had appealed to protesters to not disrupt public transport services and buses and local trains were unaffected.
There was a mixed response in other states as well. In Assam, for instance, shops pulled down shutters, protesters blocked traffic and demonstrations were staged but most offices were functioning. Dozens of protesters were detained, officials said. In Uttar Pradesh, shops and offices were mostly open, while the Samajwadi Party held protests in a number of districts and even stopped a train in Allahabad.
The ruling TRS and opposition parties, including the Congress and various unions, held protests across Telangana.
In Tamil Nadu, the opposition DMK and its allies, including the Congress, held protests across the state but life was mostly unaffected.
In the union territory of Puducherry, ruled by the Congress, however, the ?bandh' call evoked a near total response. Normal life was affected in parts of Karnataka as farmers and workers hit the roads.
As the day wound to a mostly peaceful close, Union Home Minister Amit Shah stepped in to call farmer leaders for talks, ahead of the sixth round of talks between Central ministers and farmer representatives on Wednesday. "We will demand just a 'yes' or a 'no' from Home Minister Amit Shah," farmer leader Rudru Singh Mansa told reporters at the Singhu border where thousands of farmers have been protesting for the last 12 days.
As analysts, politicians and others assessed how effective the 'bandh' had been, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav claimed it was observed in around 10,000 places in 25 states.
The three contentious laws at the centre of the protests are the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
with additional inputs from news agency PTI