NEW DELHI (AP) – Tens of thousands of farmers drove a convoy of tractors into the Indian capital as the nation celebrated Republic Day on Tuesday amid agrarian protests that have grown into a riot and rattled the government.
The roads of the capital were swarmed by rows upon rows of tractors with Indian flags and peasant associations. Farmers wearing characteristic colorful turbans shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and what they call his “black laws”. Thousands more marched on foot as they danced and sang, and somewhere they were inundated with flower petals by residents, some of whom recorded the unprecedented demonstration on their phones.
“We want to show Modi our strength,”
Police in riot used tear gas and water cannons two places to push the demonstrators back, who tried to turn down the barricades. Authorities also parked large trucks to block more routes so farmers do not march to the metropolitan area.
Farmers’ leaders said more than 10,000 tractors were to march through the capital for the demonstration, and thousands of volunteers would try to help police keep order.
The protests were set off against new agricultural laws passed by Parliament in September. Modi’s government insists the laws will benefit farmers and increase production through private investment, but farmers fear that cartelisation and commercialization of agriculture will ruin their earnings.
Farmers first tried to march to New Delhi in November, but were stopped by police. Since then, untouched by cool winter temperatures, they have cracked down on food and fuel supplies and threatened to besiege the capital until the farm’s laws are repealed.
The government has offered to change the laws and suspend their implementation for 18 months. But farmers insist they will settle for nothing less than a complete abolition. They are planning a march on foot to the Indian parliament on February 1, when the country’s new budget will be presented.
The tractor meeting overshadowed the celebration of the Republic of New Delhi, even though the annual military parade was scaled down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A thin crowd gathered next to the ceremonial Rajpath Boulevard in New Delhi to see an exhibition of the country’s military power and cultural diversity. People wore masks and kept to social distance as police and military battalions marched along the parade route. Several states showed off their flow to present their culture, and the Army showed off its latest equipment during the parade.
Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution on January 26, 1950.
Farmers are the latest group to disrupt Modi’s image of unchanging dominance in Indian politics.
Since Modi’s government returned to power for the second term in a row, it has been plagued by several cramps. The economy is fueled, social strife has expanded, protests have broken out against discriminatory laws, and his government has been questioned over its response to the pandemic. In 2019, he brought together a coalition of different and different sets: minorities and majoritarians, rights activists and journalists, communists and socialists, students and teachers, including the once dormant opposition, to form a popular march against a controversial new citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims .
Now, in the form of farmers, he is facing a growing revolt from India’s most influential bloc.
Agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.4 billion people. But the economic influence of farmers has declined over the last three decades. Once farmers accounted for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they account for only 15% of the country’s $ 2.9 trillion economy.
More than half of farmers are in debt, with 20,638 killing themselves in 2018 and 2019, according to official records.
The controversial legislation has exacerbated the current anger from farmers who have long been considered the heart and soul of India but often complain of being ignored by the government.
Modi has tried to allay the fears of the peasants by mostly dismissing their concerns and has repeatedly accused opposition parties of agitating them by spreading rumors. Some leaders of his party have called the farmers “anti-national”, a mark often given to those who criticize Modi or his policies.
Devinder Sharma, an agricultural expert who has spent the last two decades fighting for the incomes of Indian farmers, said they not only protested the reforms but also “challenged the entire country’s economic design.”
“The anger you see is compound anger,” Sharma said. “Inequality is growing in India and farmers are getting poorer. Policy planners have failed to realize this and have sucked the income from bottom to top. Farmers demand only what is their right. ”