NEW DELHI: Hoping to make themselves heard in the power centre of the nation, thousands of farmers from across the country converged here on Thursday for a two-day protest to press for their demands, including debt relief and remunerative prices for their produce.
The farmers, who will march to Ramlila Ground on Thursday and to Parliament Street on Friday, came from different corners of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Traffic was disrupted in many parts of the city as they marched to Ramlila Ground in the heart of the city on four different routes -- starting at the Anand Vihar, Nizamuddin and Bijwasan railway stations and at Sabzi Mandi.
Banded under the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which claims to be an umbrella body of 207 organisations of farmers and agricultural workers, many of the farmers came in trains and other packed into buses and other modes of transport.
Those from Delhi and nearby Punjab and Haryana started collecting around 10.30 am, their leaders said.
Kamla, a functionary of the All India Kisan Sabha's Delhi unit, said farmers from nearby areas converged at Majnu Ka Tila on the outskirts of Delhi from where they will start marching in groups to Ramlila Maidan.
The marchers will gather at Ramlila Ground by evening, the farmer leaders said, expecting a crowd of about one lakh.
About 1,200 members of the National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturalists Association reached the national capital in the early hours of Thursday carrying skulls of two of their colleagues who had committed suicide, said their leader P Ayyakannu.
The group from Tamil Nadu threatened to march naked if they are not allowed to go to Parliament on Friday.
Last year, the group staged protests at Jantar Mantar with the skulls of eight farmers who killed themselves owing to farm losses. The two-day rally will be one of the largest congregations of farmers in Delhi, the AIKSCC has said.
A cultural programme would be held at Ramlila Ground on Thursday where prominent singers and poets from rural India would perform.
The AIKSCC was formed under the aegis of All India Kisan Sabha and other Left affiliated farmers' bodies in June 2017, after protests by farmers in states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for debt relief and remunerative prices Police said they have made elaborate arrangements for the rally on Friday, when the farmers will begin their march from Ramlila Ground to Parliament Street.
Support for the farmers poured in with activists taking to Twitter to ask the general public to join the march.
"Women farmers greet us this morning from Bijwasan as they are all set to embark on #KisanMuktiMarch. Join us even if you are not a farmer. Join the hands that toil to feed us. Jai Kisan!," tweeted political activist Yogendra Yadav. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan also tweeted in solidarity with farmers.
"Over 3L farmers have committed suicide in India in last 15 yrs,due to successive govts betraying them. Tomorrow 1 lakh farmers from across the country are marching to Delhi to ask for fair prices & freedom from debt. Let's stand in solidarity with them," he said.
Jamun Thakur, a farmer from Parri village of Bihar's Darbhanga district, said he arrived in the city at 8 am Thursday with over 2,000 farmers mostly associated with AIKS.
They started their journey on the Bihar Samprakranti Express on Wednesday morning.
"We grow paddy and maize. But over the years, we have been facing losses due flood and drought like situation. We demand that the government must do something for us. The Nitish Kumar government has done nothing for us. We had hopes from the Modi government but he too betrayed us," said Thakur.
Police in adjoining Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar on the outskirts of the city were on alert ahead of the rally.
Traffic was affected on the stretch between Majnu Ka Tila and Chandi Ram Akhada, ISBT, Kashmere Gate, Samalkha and NH 8, Dhaula Kuan and Noida and Delhi.
"Forces were deployed along the border areas and no tractor-trolley allowed to get into Delhi," Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Ghaziabad, Upendra Agarwal said.
During the mega Kisan Rally led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union on October 2, thousands of protestors were stopped by the security forces at the Delhi Gate, at the juncture of Noida-Ghaziabad-Delhi.
They were only allowed after midnight to march further to the Kisan Ghat, the memorial of former prime minister late Chaudhary Charan Singh, in the national capital.