Behind the meticulous checks is apprehension among farmers and their leaders of attempts to distract from the main issues, and to paint the protests as having been “organised” by “certain groups”.
More than 500 people sit cross-legged listening to speeches blaring out of two loudspeakers fixed atop a tractor, as farm leaders address them from the main stage at Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border — the focal point of their agitation. Their stand resolute against the farm laws, and conscious of attempts to paint their agitation as dictated by vested interests, the protesters are careful of who makes it to the stage, the vetting handed over to a management committee, including volunteers. Details of the speakers are carefully maintained, and chits handed out to plan a schedule. Those with political links are expressly kept out.
Celebrities, including singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh, who spoke on Saturday, are allowed on the condition that they speak about farm issues. Dosanjh, a big star in Punjabi films who has been vocal in his support for the protests, said, “I am here to listen and not to speak. I request the national media to show things as they are. No one is violent here. The farmers are sitting peacefully. And I have only one request to the government — that they should listen to the farmers and their demands.”
Other Punjabi artistes, including Harbhajan Mann and Ranjit Bawa, have also shown up. Among those barred from the stage was Punjabi actor Deep Sindhu, who had sparked a row with comments that were seen as pro- Khalistan.
Behind the meticulous checks is apprehension among farmers and their leaders of attempts to distract from the main issues, and to paint the protests as having been “organised” by “certain groups”. “We are making every attempt possible to ensure this is purely about farmers’ issues and we will not let any other issue hijack it,” said Manjeet Singh of BKU (Doaba). “Our policy is very simple, if someone comes up on the stage and says anything apart from farmer issues, that person will not be allowed again.”
Makkhan Singh, convener of the Krantikari Kisan Union, Patiala, said, “Even if (Punjab Chief Minister) Captain Amarinder Singh comes, he will have to wait outside… Since Day 1 we have stated that this is not a political protest.
We are here against the farm Bills and we want to ensure that spirit. For that purpose, dedicated persons manage the stage since someone can come and give provocative speeches and distract from the issue. The speeches are mostly made by members of farmer unions who talk about their struggle and hope to inspire people.”
By rotation, a team of five members handles the stage, and is stationed next to it. One member notes down the name and organisation details of each speaker in a register. Chits are issued to the speakers as per the sequence of their speeches and each person is given 5-10 minutes. The speeches begin around 10 am and can go on till 6 pm, depending on the day’s programme. At barricades behind the stage, two people check IDs.
The team makes sure the speakers are affiliated to farmer organisations and not political parties. While there is a seating area demarcated in front of the stage, hundreds stand on the sidelines to listen.
“The speakers mostly come from the 30 farmer unions involved in talks with the government. The speeches address issues about the farm laws and are meant to motivate people. They also talk about the history of farmers and Sikhs to remind us of our struggles. It’s a democratic space except for those who want to play politics,” said Ranjeet Singh, member of the Azad Kisan Singh Committee, who was assigned Thursday’s stage management duty.
In the evening, the Guru Granth Sahib is read from the stage as those in the crowd hum along. “We want the Modi government to hear us. And we will ensure we do so even standing at the border,” said Makkhan Singh.
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