Farmers participate in a tractor rally to protest against the newly passed farm bills, on a highway on the outskirts of New Delhi. Reuters
Gulf Today Report
Tens of thousands of farmers gathered on tractors outside the Indian capital as the nation celebrated Republic Day on Tuesday in the backdrop of agricultural protests that have grown into a rebellion and rattled the government.
Farmers protesting against agricultural reforms breached barricades and clashed on Tuesday with police, who fired tear gas to restrain them, shortly after a convoy of tractors trundled through the city's outskirts.
Farmers try to remove a barricade during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws in Delhi, India, on Tuesday. Reuters
Growers, angry at what they see as laws that help large, private buyers at the expense of producers, have been camped outside Delhi for almost two months.
"Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now," said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern breadbasket state of Punjab, as he marched past the barricades.
He was one of hundreds of protesters, some on horseback, who broke away from the main route of the tractor protest to head for central New Delhi, which hosts an annual Republic Day military parade.
They commandeered cranes and used ropes to tear down road blocks miles from routes approved by the police, forcing constables in riot gear to fall back and let them pass, Reuters witnesses said.
Thousands more, on tractors decorated with the flags of India and farm unions, have been streaming into the capital from neighbouring states for several days ahead of the rally that coincides with India’s Republic Day.
“We will follow the instructions of our leaders and conduct a peaceful march,” said Sukhjinder Singh, a 30-year-old protestor from Punjab at Singhu, one of the main protest sites.
Around half of India’s population works in agriculture, and unrest among the estimated 150 million land-owning farmers represents one of the biggest challenges to the authority of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014.
Nine rounds of talks between the two sides have failed to end the protests. The government’s offer to delay the farm laws for 18 months has been rejected by farm leaders, who want a total repeal of the laws.
“The farm organizations have a very strong hold,” said Ambar Kumar Ghosh, an analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank.
“They have the resources to mobilize support, and to continue the protest for a long time. They have also been very successful in keeping the protest really focused.”
Police have allowed farmers to rally along pre-approved routes on the outskirts of Delhi on Tuesday.
Farmers participate in a tractor rally to protest against the newly passed farm bills in New Delhi. Reuters
But the tractor march threatens to overshadow the annual Republic Day military parade in the centre of the capital, held to mark the anniversary of the introduction of India’s Constitution in 1950.
“They (farmers) could have chosen any other day instead of January 26 but they have announced now,” India’s Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told local media on Monday.
“Conducting the rally peacefully without any accident would be the concern for farmers as well as police administration.”
The protests have so far been peaceful, and farm leaders have urged participants in Tuesday’s rally to refrain from violence.
Tens of thousands have been camped outside Delhi since December, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal three farm laws that open up the country's agriculture markets to private companies, which the farmers say will make them vulnerable.
“The Modi government has turned this protest movement into an ego issue. They are unable to see the pain of the farmers,” said Amarjeet Singh, a 68-year-old farmer from Punjab state. “They have left us no option but to protest.”
While the initial protests were started by rice and wheat growers from northern Indian who camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi, support for them has been growing especially in states not ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.
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Sheikh Mohamed expressed his sympathies and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
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