Hoping to make themselves heard in the power centre of the nation, thousands of farmers, who had converged here from across the country, on Thursday began a two-day protest, backed by the Left, to press their demands including debt relief and remunerative prices for their produce.
The farmers, who converged at Ramlila Ground here and will march to Parliament Street on Friday, came from different corners of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Traffic was disrupted in many parts of the city as they marched to Ramlila Ground in the heart of the city on four different routes -- starting at the Anand Vihar, Nizamuddin and Bijwasan railway stations and at Sabzi Mandi.
Banded under the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which claims to be an umbrella body of 207 organisations of farmers and agricultural workers, many of the farmers came in trains and other packed into buses and other modes of transport.
Those from Delhi and nearby Punjab and Haryana started collecting around 10.30 am, their leaders said. Kamla, a functionary of the All India Kisan Sabha's Delhi unit, said farmers from nearby areas converged at Majnu Ka Tila on the outskirts of Delhi from where they marched in groups to Ramlila Maidan.
About 1,200 members of the National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturalists Association reached the national capital in the early hours of Thursday carrying skulls of two of their colleagues who had committed suicide, their leader P Ayyakannu claimed.
The group from Tamil Nadu threatened to march naked if they are not allowed to go to Parliament on Friday. Last year, the group staged protests at Jantar Mantar with the skulls of eight farmers who killed themselves owing to farm losses. The two-day rally will be one of the largest congregations of farmers in Delhi, the AIKSCC has claimed.
At Ramlila Maidan, it was a sea of red as farmers wearing caps and flags gathered, with some of them arriving here after completing a long journey of as long as 36 hours. The Maidan resonated with slogans of 'Ayodhya nahi, Karzi maaf chahiye (We dont need Ayodhya but debt waiver'.
All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) leader Atul Anjaan said Delhi Jal Board will provide them water tanks and AAP local MLAs will give food packets.
Five Gurdwaras in the Delhi region have extended their help to the farmers. Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, Sisganj Sahib, Rakabganj, Bap Sahib and Manju Ka Tila will provide accommodation to farmers for the night, he said.
However, majority of the farmers will stay at Ramlila Maidan in tents, he said.
The leader also said that AAP volunteers have put up tents in large numbers at Anand Vihar station for farmers who arrived there and are also providing snacks and water to them. Some students from Delhi University have also arrived at the maidan and are helping farmers out.
Vounteers, including doctors, lawyers, professors and artists, all came out in large numbers to help. Around 600-700 volunteers of a solidarity group Nation For Farmers marched with the farmers from four assembly points -Bijwasan, Majnu Ka Tila, Nizamuddin and Anand Vihar towards Ramlila Maidan.
Under their campaign, Dilli Chalo, they mobilised support for the march. A cultural programme was held at Ramlila Ground in the evening.
The AIKSCC was formed under the aegis of All India Kisan Sabha and other Left affiliated farmers' bodies in June 2017, after protests by farmers in states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for debt relief and remunerative prices.
Police said they have made elaborate arrangements for the rally on Friday, when the farmers will begin their march from Ramlila Ground to Parliament Street.
Support for the farmers poured in with activists taking to Twitter to ask the general public to join the march.
"Women farmers greet us this morning from Bijwasan as they are all set to embark on #KisanMuktiMarch. Join us even if you are not a farmer. Join the hands that toil to feed us. Jai Kisan!," tweeted political activist and former AAP leader Yogendra Yadav.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan also tweeted in solidarity with farmers."Over 3L farmers have committed suicide in India in last 15 yrs, due to successive govts betraying them. Tomorrow 100,000 farmers from across the country are marching to Delhi to ask for fair prices & freedom from debt. Let's stand in solidarity with them," he said.
Jamun Thakur, a farmer from Parri village of Bihar's Darbhanga district, said he arrived in the city at 8 am Thursday with over 2,000 farmers mostly associated with AIKS. They started their journey on the Bihar Samprakranti Express on Wednesday morning.
Traffic was affected on the stretch between Majnu Ka Tila and Chandi Ram Akhada, ISBT, Kashmere Gate, Samalkha and NH 8, Dhaula Kuan and Noida and Delhi.
"Forces were deployed along the border areas and no tractor-trolley was allowed to get into Delhi," Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Ghaziabad, Upendra Agarwal said.
Meanwhile, the police said they have made elaborate arrangements for the farmers march that will start from Ramlila Maidan on Friday and move towards Parliament. There will be a rope on both the sides of the marching farmers with the police walking along with them to ensure traffic is not affected.