Defying a ban, a large number of farmers gathered at Shamli in Uttar Pradesh today for a farmers' panchayat or meeting in solidarity with the protests outside Delhi. The state's BJP government had refused to permit the meeting citing restrictions imposed just two days ago.
Thousands of farmers sat on the ground as songs imploring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of farmers played out in the backdrop. Chants of "Inquilab Zindabad" were heard as more and more farmers walked or drove to the meeting on their tractors.
The district administration in Shamli, which is 100 km from Delhi, had cited a Covid-spurred restriction on large gatherings until April and "chances of unruly behaviour" by farmers while denying permission for the panchayat, but the organisers, including the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), said they would not be deterred.
"We are saying in once voice, if anyone raises a lathi to the farmer, we will crush that finger. Let's take a decision today, if this government is not hearing you out, you do the same in next year's election," said RLD leader Jayant Chowdhury.
He had tweeted yesterday, after the administration denied permission: "144 reasons why I will go to Shamli tomorrow!". He was referring to Section 144, which is used to ban large gatherings.
A Mahapanchayat was also held at Sirsa in Haryana today. Indian National Lok Dal's Abhay Chautala, who recently quit as an MLA in support of the farmers, addressed the meeting.
"Tomorrow is February 6 and the kisan morcha has announced a chakka jam (blockade). Ensure that no one from bordering Rajasthan enters into Haryana," he said.
Several Mahapanchayats have been held over the past few weeks across UP and Haryana in support of the farmers' agitation over three controversial farm laws that they say will leave them at the mercy of corporates and take away their guaranteed earnings.
But despite the support for farmers in these states, Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar said in parliament today that the protests were confined to one state; he was seen to hint at Congress-ruled Punjab.
A series of meetings have been planned across Uttar Pradesh between February 5 and February 18 by the Bharatiya Kisan Union headed by Rakesh Tikait. Thousands have been camping on the outskirts of the national capital, seeking repeal of the three laws cleared by parliament in September.
Tomorrow, a countrywide three-hour blockade has been planned but farmer leaders have announced that Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh will be exempted.
This week, international figures like pop star Rihanna, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and US and UK lawmakers drew the world's attention to the protests with their tweets.
Last week, thousands had gathered for the Mahapanchayat in Baghpat's Baraut in Uttar Pradesh.
The government says the laws bring long overdue reforms in the agriculture sector and will allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country for competitive prices.