Thousands of farmers on tractors entered New Delhi on Tuesday as the country marked its Republic Day, escalating protests against new agricultural laws passed by the government.
TV news channels flashed images of farmers hoisting flags at Red Fort in the heart of Delhi, with hundreds of them deviating from agreed routes. Farmers commandeered cranes and used ropes to tear down roadblocks miles from routes approved by the police, forcing the police in riot gear to fall back and let them pass during Republic Day celebrations, news reports said.
Farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have camped outside New Delhi for almost two months to protest against three laws that open up India’s agriculture markets. Nine rounds of talks with farmers’ unions have failed to end the protests, as farm leaders rejected the government’s offer to delay the laws for 18 months, making a push for repeal instead.
Here're key highlights on how the tractor rally unfolded
- Farmers, with their tractors, deviated from the agreed routes, breached barricades at border points and entered the ITO business district in Central Delhi. Videos showed many protesters pelting stones at police personnel. Delhi Police resorted to tear gas on groups of farmers first at Singhu border, and later at ITO after they breached barricades. The police repeatedly appealed to the protesters to maintain calm. Farmers were given permission to hold a rally only along the designated routes on the borders of the city.
- A farmer died in central Delhi's ITO after his tractor overturned, said police, according to multiple news organisations. Farmers draped the body in the tricolour and kept it a traffic crossing, refusing the police to take the body away for autopsy, said PTI. Home Minister Amit Shah asked paramilitary forces to be deployed in Delhi after Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla briefed him about the security situation in the city.
- After the clash at ITO, protesting farmers stormed into the Red Fort, breaching police barricades. Multiple videos and visuals showed people climbing flag posts and hoisting the flags of their outfits on the ramparts of Red Fort. A police official was injured at Red Fort, according to a report in Indian Express.
- "We came here to deliver a message to the Modi government, our job is done. We will go back now," one of the farmers told NDTV news channel at the Red Fort, adding that "we'll not stop till the government repeals the laws". Samyukta Kisan Morcha, a farmers union that’s part of the weeks-long protests, condemned the violence. "We thank farmers for the unprecedented participation in today's Farmers Republic Day Parade. We also condemn and regret the undesirable and unacceptable events that have taken place today and dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts," it said in a statement after farmers entered Red Ford.
- The union home ministry ordered to suspend telecom services temporarily in border areas - Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri, Mukarba Chowk, Nangloi and their adjoining areas -- of Delhi from 12:00 pm to 11:59 pm on Tuesday. Internet services too have been snapped in some parts of Delhi and its neighbouring cities, according to news agency ANI. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) services were affected by the violence and the entry and exit gates at several metro stations were shut.
- As violence unfolded in the capital, various political leaders appealed for peace and calm. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter he was anguished by the violence. “Violence is not the solution to any problem. If anyone gets hurt, the damage will happen to our country. Take back the anti-farmer law for the benefit of the country,” he said.
- The government and the farmers have held several rounds of talks so far, but to no avail as the unions pressed for complete repeal of the laws, something which the government isn't ready to do, but showed willingness to suspend or amend the acts. The Supreme Court has set up a panel to study the laws and seek views from various stakeholders on the issue. The farmers rejected the panel and said the members had pre-conceived notions in favour of the acts.
- The government has offered to suspend the laws for as long as 18 months while in talks with the protest leaders, but the farmers have stuck to their position that they want a repeal of the legislation they say will hurt their incomes and leave them vulnerable to big corporations.
- “They could have chosen any other day instead of January 26, but they have announced now,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told media on Monday. “Conducting the rally peacefully without any accident would be the concern for farmers as well as police.”
- The new legislation aims to overhaul the way farm goods are produced and sold in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, almost half of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The government has defended the measures as an opportunity to open up state-run wholesale markets to more private sales, which it says would help farmers increase their cash earnings and make India more self-reliant.
(With inputs from PTI, ANI, Reuters and Bloomberg.)