BARNALA, India: More than 100,000 farmers and farm workers gathered in India’s northern Punjab state on Sunday in a show of strength against new farm laws, where union leaders called on supporters to amass outside the capital New Delhi on Feb. 27.
Tens of thousands of Indian growers have already been camped outside Delhi for nearly three months, demanding the repeal of the three reform laws that they say will hurt them and benefit large corporations.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the law in September last year. The government proposed to postpone the law, but refused to abandon the law, saying it would help farmers raise prices.
The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations, but no progress has been made. The farmers’ union has vowed to continue to protest until the law is revoked.
At Sunday’s rally at a grain market in Barnala, a town in Punjab, union leaders outlined plans to mobilise farmers and farm workers from across the northern state and move to a protest site outside Delhi later this month.
“We came here to make Punjab’s farmers aware of the movement in Delhi. We came to tell them what’s happening there and what will happen next,” prominent farmer leader Joginder Ugrahan told Reuters.
A sea of supporters, including tens of thousands of women, began gathering in Barnala early in the day, riding in on buses, tractors, trailers and cars. Local police estimated a crowd of between 120,000 and 130,000 eventually gathered, comprising one of the largest rallies against the laws.
Baljinder Singh, a 52-year-old farmer, said he had travelled 30 kms (18.6 miles) to attend the rally. “Our objective is that the black laws enacted by the Modi government are repealed,” Singh said, tightly grasping a flag of a farmers’ union.
In New Delhi, a senior official of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party accused the opposition party of attempting to extend the incitement, but said the government was willing to accept further talks.