Farmers drive convoy of tractors to Indian capital for protest on Republic Day

Farmers drive convoy of tractors to Indian capital for protest on Republic Day

Police in New Delhi use tear gas to disperse farmers who marched to the capital during India’s Republic Day celebrations (Altaf Qadri/AP)

Tens of thousands of protesting farmers have driven long lines of tractors into India’s capital, breaking through police barricades, defying tear gas and storming the historic Red Fort as the nation celebrated Republic Day.

They waved farm union flags from the ramparts of the fort, where prime ministers annually hoist the national flag to mark the country’s independence.

Thousands more farmers marched on foot or rode on horseback while shouting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At some places, they were showered with flower petals by residents.

Leaders of the farmers said more than 10,000 tractors joined the protest.

Protesting farmers march to the capital in India (Altaf Qadri)

For nearly two months, farmers have camped at the edge of the capital, blockading roads connecting it with the country’s north in a rebellion that has rattled the government. They are demanding the withdrawal of new laws which they say will commercialise agriculture and devastate farmers’ earnings.

“We want to show Modi our strength,” said Satpal Singh, a farmer who drove into the capital on a tractor along with his family of five. “We will not surrender.”

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at numerous places to push back the row upon row of tractors, which shoved aside concrete and steel barricades. Authorities blocked roads with large trucks and buses in an attempt to stop the farmers from reaching the centre of the capital.

“We will do as we want to. You cannot force your laws on the poor,” said Manjeet Singh, a protesting farmer.

The government insists that the agriculture reform laws passed in September will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment.

The protests overshadowed the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi (Manish Swarup/AP)

Farmers tried to march into New Delhi in November but were stopped by police. Since then, unfazed by the winter cold, they have hunkered down at the edge of the city and threatened to besiege it if the farm laws are not repealed.

The government has offered to amend the laws and suspend their implementation for 18 months. But farmers insist they will settle for nothing less than a complete repeal. They plan to march on foot to Parliament on Febraury 1, when the country’s new budget will be presented.

The tractor rally overshadowed the Republic Day celebrations, which were scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A thin crowd assembled along ceremonial Rajpath boulevard in New Delhi to watch a parade displaying the country’s military power and cultural diversity. People wore masks and adhered to social distancing as police and military battalions marched along the route displaying their latest equipment.

Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution on January 26 1950.

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