Around 50 metres from the main gate of Muzaffarnagar’s GIC ground, a group of farmers stood patiently in queue at a water tank, splashing water on their face and drinking their fill. Nothing, including the humid weather, would deter them from being part of a “historic” mahapanchayat organised by the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha.
Outside the ground, a line of farmers stretched back for almost 1 km, even as vehicular movement on a flyover was restricted. In the ground itself, there was no space for the protesters to even stand in the main tents, so they squatted on the streets and pavement, hearing farmer leaders addressing them.
Close to Meenakshi Chowk, a farmer stood with a bunch of bananas, offering one to every passerby. Around 100 metres away, langers (community kitchens) had been organised, with bystanders offered puri, aloo, rice and daal.
For many, the mahapanchayat was reminiscent of the gatherings held by Mahendra Singh Tikait, considered one of the most influential farmer leaders this region has seen. “As far as you can see, there are farmers. Mahendra Tikait had the aura that could pull people from all corners. It is historical that farmers from all over are coming to be a part of this resistance. This is a message to the government that they cannot silence us for long,” said Sunil Nagar, who had travelled from Meerut.
The mahapanchayat also had its share of detractors. A group of people had gathered close to the stage after crossing the barricades and could be heard heckling the speakers. Before farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal could begin his address, Tikait had to issue a warning, claiming the jeers were an “insult” to speakers. It was only after repeated requests that the crowd settled down and speeches resumed.
As the heat worsened, many farmers huddled at the medical camp set up at the main gate of the ground, where medicines and ORS were being distributed. Fanning themselves with their gamcha, the farmers however never missed a chance to join in the chorus when someone raised the slogan ‘Jo Bole So Nihal’.
In an attempt to have a better view of the stage, farmers climbed onto tree branches, roofs of abandoned buildings, concrete barriers, or even steel poles.
“It does not matter if we are close to the stage or not. We are here to participate and make this the biggest gathering the state has seen. Our support is there and we will come whenever there is such a call,” said a farmer from his perch on the roof of his tractor.