TENS of thousands of farmers drove in a convoy of tractors yesterday into the Indian capital during national Republic Day celebrations as part of protests that threaten to bring down the government.
The capital’s roads were swarmed by rows upon rows of tractors bearing the flags of India and agricultural unions.
Farmers, wearing distinctive colourful turbans, shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ‘black laws’.
Thousands more marched on foot, dancing and singing, and at one place they were showered with flower petals by residents, some of whom recorded the unprecedented rally on their phones.
‘We want to show Modi our strength,’ Satpal Singh, a farmer who travelled into the capital on a tractor with his family of five, said.
‘We will not surrender’.
Police in riot gear used tear gas and water cannons at two locations to push back the protesters who tried to knock down barricades.
Authorities also parked large trucks to block many routes so farmers could not march to capital’s centre.
The farmers’ leaders said more than 10,000 tractors were to proceed through the capital for the rally and thousands of volunteers would try to help the police in keeping order.
The protests were set off by new agricultural laws Parliament passed in September.
Modi’s government insists the laws will ‘benefit farmers and boost production through private investment,’ but farmers fear cartelisation and commercialisation of agriculture will devastate their earnings.
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.
UK trade union Unite put out a statement yesterday that it ‘stands in full solidarity with the Indian trade union movement and Indian farmers and workers.’
Unite said: ‘We demand that the Indian government allow the workers to demonstrate their dissent without the repression by the Indian authorities that we saw during the protests in November 2020.
‘The Indian farmers and workers’ protests against the anti-farmer laws – which would withdraw the government’s minimum support price for farm produce, with serious implications for farmers’ income and livelihoods – are fully justified and legitimate.
‘Unite is appalled that the Indian government has implemented widescale repression under the excuse of Covid-19.
‘In addition to the anti-famer laws, the government has also introduced anti-worker social security, wage and industrial relations legislation, which has been passed without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.
‘These laws will lead to more precarious work, have an adverse effect on collective bargaining, seriously limit the right to strike and make Indian workers far more vulnerable.
‘Unite, along with the global trade union movement, stands in full solidarity with the Indian trade union movement in their efforts to build unity and solidarity and in resisting the attacks on farmer and workers’ rights. Injury to one is an injury to all!’
A group of farmers is holding a sit-in demonstration at Delhi’s ITO Metro Station with the body of a protester who they said was shot dead by the police as he was driving his tractor.
The ITO area also saw fierce clashes between farmers and police yesterday. A police bus was also hijacked and the police resorted to lathi charges.