New Delhi: On Monday, October 18, more than 150 trains across the country were stopped by farm law protesters demanding the dismissal of Union minister Ajay Mishra from the home ministry over the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in Uttar Pradesh, which resulted in the deaths of four farmers, two BJP workers, a driver and a reporter on October 3.
This was in line with a call given by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) to stop trains as part of a protest for a fair investigation into the minister’s role in the violence in which his son Ashish Mishra has been arrested. In its statement, SKM announced that “protests will only be intensified until justice is secured” in the Lakhimpur Kheri case.
Earlier SKM had said that train traffic nationwide would be stopped for six hours from 10 am till 4 pm on Monday to “press for its demand for MoS Home Ajay Mishra’s dismissal and arrest, so that justice can be secured in the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre”.
It had also requested farmers to protest peacefully without any destruction and damage to railway property.
The impact of the rail roko (stop the trains) protest was mostly seen in the states of Haryana and Punjab. While farmers blocked the Amritsar train track as early as 11 am, Rapid Action Force (RAF) was deployed at the Sonipat Railway Station, Haryana, ahead of the agitation. In several districts of Uttar Pradesh, Section 144 was imposed ahead of the agitation.
By 2 pm on Monday, according to the Northern Railway, around 50 trains and 130 locations had been affected due to the farmers’ agitation in Punjab and Haryana. Till 6 pm, as per data, close to 300 trains were affected in 184 locations across the country, mostly in the northern states. Over a hundred were stopped before reaching their destinations, and close to 50 trains were cancelled.
Some districts of Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana also saw the participation of farmers in the rail roko agitation.
According to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), several farmer leaders were detained in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
BKU’s Bhupendra Chaudhary, who is based in Haryana, told The Wire that in Haryana the farmers had come out and blocked trains at all stations, big or small. He was at Charkhi Dadri station along with hundreds of others to stop the trains there.
“Today, we demanded the resignation of Ajay Mishra as well as a probe into his involvement in the violence against our farmer brothers. Through the successful agitation today, we have clearly sent a message to the government that the Lakhimpur Kheri incident will continue to haunt them till the time justice is not done,” he said.
Even though the incident had taken place in Uttar Pradesh, he said that the farmers in Haryana and Punjab readily stood up for the farmers in UP, as it was a movement of all farmers.
In contrast to Punjab and Haryana, Uttar Pradesh witnessed a low turnout of protestors and only a few districts in the western part saw participation.
Prashant Olakh, a law student at Venkateswara University in Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha and the student wing regional president of seven Western UP districts for Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), was among the leaders mobilising the crowds for the agitation.
He told The Wire that the participation was not as much as they had imagined due to the heavy rainfall in a few districts since last night.
“There was no other reason than heavy rainfall because of which the numbers were low. Even the Kisan Mahapanchayat that was scheduled for yesterday had to be postponed due to the rains in spite of the arrangements like tents and food being made,” he said.
He told The Wire that he, along with a few hundred farmers, had gathered at a station in Amroha and stopped a train for a few hours. “In spite of such heavy rains, I was surprised to see that even those many people had come,” he added.
Gurmeet, a farmer from Amroha had also participated in the rail roko agitation on Monday. He told The Wire, “The minister who is responsible for the painful incident in Lakhimpur Kheri is still roaming free while our farmer brothers had been killed mercilessly. Their families have still not recovered from the tragedy, but the government is not taking any action.”
He said it was high time that the government sacked Ajay Mishra and rolled back the three farm laws as assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh were getting closer by the day. “Otherwise, we will show them the power of farmers through our votes,” he told The Wire.
Abhishek Chaudhary is another RLD member from Muzaffarnagar district, one of the few districts in Western UP, which was impacted by the agitation.
“In this district, there are three stations, and RLD members had joined the agitation on the call by the SKM. Each point had at least 150-200 people, in spite of the heavy rains,” he said, adding that Saharanpur and Meerut also saw people come out despite the rains.
Surendra Singh, a local farmer from Muzaffarnagar, is among the oldest farmers to have gone to the station for the agitation.
“I am 80 years old, and I went to join the agitation in the rain because this is the only way we can create pressure on the government,” he said, adding that it was only because of the farmers’ strength that Ashish Mishra, the minister’s son, was arrested.
He demanded a fair investigation should be carried out after dismissing Ajay Mishra from the Union Cabinet. “If he gets a clean chit after a thorough investigation into his role in the violence, he can be reinstated again. What is the BJP government afraid of if they really believe that he did not orchestrate this violence?” he asked.
Earlier, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait had issued a similar statement. While demanding an investigation into Ajay Mishra as well as his arrest, he had said that if he was found innocent, he should be promoted to a better position.
He added that most farmers who grow the sugarcane crop like him were unhappy with the BJP government, especially in his district.