- Many of the farmers are on their way back to the villages
- Having less crowd at borders "part of new strategy", say protesters
- Focus is now on holding massive rallies across states to garner support
The crowd of farmers is thinning around Delhi borders at Ghazipur and Singhu as the protest against the Centre's new farm laws entered its 83rd day with no breakthrough in sight. Many of the farmers are on their way back to the villages. From the thousands camping at the protest site barely a month ago, only half the number remain.
Asked if the protest is fizzling out, farmers said it is since it is clear that this is going to be a long battle, having less crowd at the borders is part of their new strategy, which is based on spreading the agitation.
The focus is now on holding massive rallies across states to garner support for the agitation. Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait has planned mahapanchayats across the country. He is expected to attend a series of such meetings in Haryana, Maharashtra and Rajasthan over the next 10 days.
Over the last months, talks with the government have been at a deadlock, with neither side ready to back down. The farmers have refused to accept the government's offer of an 18-month freeze on the three laws while negotiations continue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the proposal stands.
"What if 10 lakh people gather here? Will the government take back these laws? We will protest in the entire country, in all the districts our people are spreading. Meetings are taking place," said Rakesh, a protesting farmer.
"At first, the agitation was centralized at the borders, keeping in mind the stubbornness of the government," said Jagtar Singh Bajwa, a spokesperson of the Ghazipur Protest Committee. "The farmer leaders are changing their strategy as well, so that the protest can reach every house in every village. We are holding Mahapanchayats at different locations," he added.
"We need to utilize the energy of the youth, so while spreading the word, the farmers can also carry on with their work. Now it is not just the border but a farmer in his field is also equally part of it," added Mr Bajwa.
Farmer leaders also claim that farmers are always available to arrive at the borders within a short notice. "At the Ghazipur border, whenever we need numbers. 1 lakh people can come within a day," added Mr Bajwa.
Activists taking part in the agitation say decentralization of the agitation an important step.
"In Punjab, Haryana and other places there have been smaller agitations. Now they are intensifying," said Ramon Magsaysay awardee and activist Sandeep Pandey.
"Decentralization is happening, rallies happening in Bihar, farmers of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Awadh, can't come on tractor so we are planning smaller events there as well," he added.
So far, Punjab and Haryana have been the epicentre of the protests, while farmers in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have participated to a lesser extent. There have been some participation in states like Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The farmers contend that the farm laws will shrink their income by doing away with the minimum prices fixed by the government and leave them at the mercy of corporates. The government says the laws are major reforms in the farm sector that will help farmers dispense with middlemen and allow them to sell produce anywhere in the country.