Farmers return to protest camp after deeply challenging Prime Minister Modi

NEW DELHI (AP) – Tens of thousands of farmers were camped at the historic Red Fort on Indian Republic Day on Wednesday in front of the capital after a protester died and more than 300 police officers were injured on the most varied day of their two-month break. .

Protests demanding the repeal of the new agricultural laws have grown into a riot that has plagued Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. On Tuesday, more than 10,000 tractors and thousands more tried to move forward on foot or on horseback, pushing aside the barricades and buses that blocked their way, and occasionally encountered tear gas and water cannons at police.

With a brief takeover of the 17th century fort, which was the palace of the Mughal emperors, live Indian news channels were played. Farmers, some carrying festive swords, ropes and sticks, suppressed police officers. As a deeply symbolic challenge to Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government, protesters storming the Red Fort raised a Sikh religious flag.

“The situation is normal now. Protesters have left the streets of the capital, New Police officer New Delhi Anto Alphonse said Wednesday morning.

Protesting host groups are scheduled to meet later on Wednesday to discuss the course of future action. Another parade is planned for February 1, when the Modi government is scheduled to present the annual budget to Parliament.

The protest organizer, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the United Farmer Commander, accused two outside groups of sabotaging their infiltration into their otherwise peaceful movement.

“Even if it was sabotage, we cannot avoid responsibility,” said Yogendra Yadav, the leader of the protest.

Yadav said there was frustration among protesting farmers and “how can this be controlled if the government doesn’t take seriously what was demanded for two months”.

Several roads were closed on Wednesday following a protest by the police headquarters and some Delhi retired police officers around Connaught Place, which demanded criminal proceedings against the protesting farmers who committed the violence, India Press Trust India news agency reported.

Political analyst Arti Jerath said Tuesday’s violence would put farmers ’organizations on their backs.

“The Supreme Court has said all along that farmers can continue to protest without disrupting New Delhi life. Tuesday’s development has given the government a chance to go to the Supreme Court and says that’s exactly what it feared would become violent. “

Tuesday’s escalation overshadowed republican celebrations, including the annual military parade, which had already been curbed due to the coronavirus epidemic. Authorities closed some metro stations and suspended mobile internet service in parts of the capital, a common tactic by the government to thwart protests.

Farmers – many of them Sikhs from the Punjab and Haryana states – tried to invade New Delhi in November, but were stopped by police. Since then, without the cold of winter and frequent rains, they have descended to the outskirts of the city and threatened with siege if economic laws are not repealed.

Political analyst Neeraja Choudhury said the government could not anticipate what would follow and prepare for it properly. “If farmers all over India are excited, they can’t dismiss the protests as some opposition is inciting farmers.”

Police spokeswoman Anil Kumar said more than 300 police officers were injured in the clashes with farmers. Several of them jumped into a deep dry drain in the fort area to avoid protesters several times over.

Police say one of the protesters died after the tractor overturned, but farmers said it was shot. Several bloody protesters could be seen on television footage.

Police say protesting farmers broke away from approved protest routes and resorted to “violence and vandalism”. Eight buses and 17 private vehicles were damaged, police said, who had launched four cases of vandalism against protesters.

The government insists that the agricultural laws passed by Parliament in September benefit farmers and increase production through private investment. But farmers fear it will become an agricultural company and leave them. The government has offered an 18-month suspension of the laws, but farmers want nothing less than a complete repeal.

Since his return to power for a second cycle, Modi’s government has been shaken by a number of cramps. The pandemic plunged India’s already tousled economy into its first recession, widened social strife, and questioned its government over its response to the coronavirus epidemic.

In 2019, the year the first major protests were against his administration, diverse factions teamed up with a controversial new citizenship law that they said discriminated against Muslims.

“The government has failed on the National Security Front. I think this government has blinked quite a bit at the security challenges it poses by alienating minority communities, Muslims and Sikhs, ”said Arti Jerath, a political analyst.

India is predominantly Hindu, with Muslims making up 14% of its nearly 1.4 billion population and Sikhs almost 2%.