At the wheel of their tractors, thousands of Indian farmers broke roadblocks on Tuesday (26) on their way to New Delhi. In the capital, the group protested against agricultural sector reforms proposed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The date of the protest was chosen to coincide with the Republic Day military parade, a public holiday that celebrates the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution in 1950.
The act ended in a confrontation with the police – at least one protester died and 86 officers were injured, Delhi police said.
During the protest, farmers invaded the historic Fort Rouge complex and hoisted farm union flags at the site, in a gesture full of symbolism. Traditionally, the Prime Minister of India has a habit of flying the country’s flag inside the monument every year during independence celebrations.
Police even fired tear gas canisters in an attempt to force the protesters to retreat, but the action failed.
Some of the protesters who scaled the walls of the Red Fort carried ceremonial swords, which they used to prevent the police from entering. Images from the Asian news agency ANI showed security guards jumping over walls to escape.
“Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now,” said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer in the northern state of Punjab.
A man has died after the tractor he was driving overturned in a confrontation with politics, officials said. According to a witness who participated in the act, the body was wrapped in the three colors of the country.
The government has ordered internet services in parts of the capital to be blocked, according to mobile operator Vodafone Idea, in order to avoid further disruption.
Farmers have camped out of the capital for nearly two months, which has been one of the prime challenges for the prime minister since coming to power in 2014. They criticize government reform that relaxes sales, pricing rules and storage of agricultural products.
One of the most important changes is that with the new laws, farmers will be allowed to sell their products at market prices directly to private entities such as farm businesses, supermarket chains and grocery stores.
Currently, farmers sell most of their production in government-controlled wholesale markets, with guaranteed minimum prices.
Tens of thousands of farmers started the day aboard a train of tractors crossing the outskirts of the capital. But hundreds of them fled approved protest routes, heading for government buildings in the center of town, where the annual parade of Republic Day troops and military equipment took place.
Protesters confiscated cranes and used ropes to demolish roadblocks, forcing police with shock equipment to give way to the crowds. A second group drove tractors to a crossroads, also crossing barricades after clashes with police.
Protest organizer Samyukt Kisan Morcha said groups that deviate from established routes do not represent the majority of farmers.
“We also condemn and regret the unwanted and unacceptable events which have occurred today and we dissociate ourselves from those who practice such acts,” the group of agricultural unions said in a statement.
Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of the state of Punjab, where many demonstrators came from, also condemned the episode. “The violence of certain elements is unacceptable,” he wrote on his social networks. “This will undo the goodwill generated by farmers protesting peacefully.”
Agriculture employs about half of India’s 1.3 billion people, and unrest among some 150 million landowners is worrying the government.
Nine rounds of negotiations with farmers’ unions failed to end the protests, as farm leaders rejected the government’s offer to postpone the laws for 18 months, pushing for repeal.
“Farmers’ organizations have a very strong influence,” said Ambar Kumar Ghosh, analyst at the New Delhi study center, the Observer Research Foundation. “They have the resources to mobilize support and continue the protest for a long time.”