Angry farmers storm India’s Red Fort in challenge to Modi

Indian farmers sit on their tractor after arriving at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border for Tuesday’s tractor rally in New Delhi, India, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Thousands of farmers gathered on the borders of Delhi for a massive tractor rally on Tuesday against the three contentious farm laws when India will celebrate its Republic day with a military and cultural parade. The two-month-old old blockade of highways connecting the capital with the country’s north continues as the talks have remained deadlocked with the government refusing to scrap the new agricultural reform laws which the farmers say will benefit large corporations. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)Indian farmers sit on their tractor after arriving at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border for Tuesday’s tractor rally in New Delhi, India, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Thousands of farmers gathered on the borders of Delhi for a massive tractor rally on Tuesday against the three contentious farm laws when India will celebrate its Republic day with a military and cultural parade. The two-month-old old blockade of highways connecting the capital with the country’s north continues as the talks have remained deadlocked with the government refusing to scrap the new agricultural reform laws which the farmers say will benefit large corporations. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An Assam police person looks on as a worker, unseen, prepares the stands with flags at a venue of Indian Republic Day ceremonial parade in Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the India’s constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)An Assam police person looks on as a worker, unseen, prepares the stands with flags at a venue of Indian Republic Day ceremonial parade in Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the India’s constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Indian army soldiers with a sniffer dog perform security checks at a venue of Indian Republic Day ceremonial parade in Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the India’s constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)Indian army soldiers with a sniffer dog perform security checks at a venue of Indian Republic Day ceremonial parade in Gauhati, India, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the India’s constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Indian Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel march during Republic Day celebrations in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Tuesday’s event marks the anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution taking force in 1950. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)Indian Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel march during Republic Day celebrations in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Tuesday’s event marks the anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution taking force in 1950. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

Tens of thousands of farmers marched, rode horses and drove tractors into India’s capital on Tuesday, breaking through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort — a deeply symbolic act that revealed the scale of their challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

As the country celebrated Republic Day, the long-running protest turned violent, with farmers waving farm union and religious flags from the ramparts of the fort, where prime ministers annually hoist the national flag on the country’s August independence holiday. Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons and set up barricades in an attempt to prevent the protesters from reaching the centre of New Delhi, but the demonstrators broke through in many places.

People watched in shock as the takeover of the fort, which was built in the 17th century and served as the palace of Mughal emperors, was shown live on hundreds of news channels. Protesters, some carrying ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelmed police.

The farmers have been staging largely peaceful protests for nearly two months, demanding the withdrawal of new laws that they say will favour large corporate farms and devastate the earnings of smaller scale farmers.

The contentious legislation has exacerbated existing resentment among farmers, who have long been seen as the heart and soul of India but often complain of being ignored by the government. As their protest has gathered strength, it has rattled the government like never before since they form the most influential voting bloc in India and are also crucial to its economy.

“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.”

Leaders of the farmers said more than 10,000 tractors joined the protest, and thousands more people marched on foot or rode on horseback while shouting slogans against Modi. At some places, they were showered with flower petals by residents who recorded the unprecedented protest on their phones.

Authorities used tear gas, water cannons and placed large trucks and buses in roads to try to hold back crowd, including rows upon rows of tractors, which shoved aside concrete and steel barricades. Police said one protester died after his tractor overturned, but farmers said he was shot. Several bloodied protesters could be seen in television footage.

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

“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 by Parliament in September will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment. But the farmers fear it will leave those who hold small plots behind as big corporations win out.

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 and plan to march on foot to Parliament on Feb. 1.

Farmers are the latest group to upset Modi’s image of imperturbable dominance in Indian politics.

Since returning to power for a second term, Modi’s government has been rocked by several convulsions. The economy has tanked, social strife has widened, protests have erupted against laws some deem discriminatory and his government has been questioned over its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, the year that witnessed the first major protests against his administration, a diverse coalition of groups rallied against a contentious new citizenship law that they said discriminated against Muslims.

But the latest protests — which began in northern states that are major agricultural producers — have triggered a growing farmer rebellion that is fast spreading to other parts of the country, presenting a serious challenge to Modi’s government.

Agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.4 billion people. But the economic clout of farmers has diminished over the last three decades. Once producing a third of India’s gross domestic product, farmers now account for only 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.

More than half of farmers are in debt, with 20,638 killing themselves in 2018 and 2019, according to official records.

Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert who has spent the last two decades campaigning for income equality for Indian farmers, said they are not only protesting the reforms but also “challenging the entire economic design of the country.”

“The anger that you see is compounded anger,” Sharma said. “Inequality is growing in India and farmers are becoming poorer. Policy planners have failed to realize this and have sucked the income from the bottom to the top. The farmers are only demanding what is their right.”

Modi has tried to dismiss the farmers’ fears as unfounded and has repeatedly accused opposition parties of agitating them by spreading rumours.

The protests overshadowed Republic Day celebrations, in which Modi oversaw a traditional lavish parade along ceremonial Rajpath boulevard displaying the country’s military power and cultural diversity. Authorities shut some metro train stations, and mobile internet service was suspended in some parts of the capital, a frequent tactic of the government to thwart protests.

The parade was scaled back because of the pandemic. 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 Jan. 26, 1950.

Police said the protesting farmers broke away from the approved protest routes and resorted to “violence and vandalism.”

The group that organized the protest, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, blamed the violence on “anti-social elements” who “infiltrated an otherwise peaceful movement.”

___

AP video journalist Rishabh R. Jain contributed to this report.

Sheikh Saaliq, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Three metal plaques have been pried off the monument, seen here on Saturday, March 6 in the Neil McLeod Memorial Park on 216th Street (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Theft of plaques from Langley’s McLeod Memorial Park called ‘disgusting’

Former mayor Kurt Alberts says McLeod family members would be ‘broken-hearted’

A local letter writer encourages people to move towards plant-based agriculture. (Black Press Media files)
LETTER: Langley resident says look at the true cost of agriculture

In response to the Painful Truth opinion column, a letter writer explores farming issues

Langley Camera Club member Kathy Burton was out walking along the Fraser River near Fort Langley when a barge passed. (Special to the Langley Advance Times)
SHARE: What can be seen strolling along the Fraser River in Langley

Send us your photo showing how you view Langley, and it could be featured in a future edition

A local resident is concerned about the low voter turnout in the recent school board byelection. (Langley Advance Times files)
LETTER: Few Langley residents bothered to vote in school trustee election

A local letter writer wonders why the current situation didn’t prompt more people to cast ballots

An agreement between the City and the Langley Lions Housing Society would set out income and age requirements for the new Birch replacement building (Langley City image)
Agreement on seniors rental building a first for Langley City

Sets several conditions to ensure project is affordable for low- and moderate-income seniors

Seveya Jepsen is inviting people to stop by her Pet Food Drive on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Jepsen family/Special to the Langley Advance Time)
Langley girl’s 10th birthday goes to the dogs, and cats, and rabbits

Seveya Jepsen is concerned that animals have enough food so she’s hosting a pet food drive.

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover digging in with B.C.-made part

Kennametal’s Langford plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 in Ottawa. Doctors in Alberta have signed an open letter asking for prioritized vaccination of health-care staff who work directly with patients on dedicated COVID-19 units. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID vaccines for seniors in B.C.: Here’s how to sign up

Seniors 90+, Indigenous seniors 65+ and Indigenous Elders can book starting March 8

The Kimber family of Boston Bar lost their home in a fire. Blaine Kimber’s daughter created a fundraiser to help rebuild the home with the goal of $100,000. (Screenshot/GoFundMe)
Fundraiser created for Boston Bar family that lost everything in weekend fire

Witnesses say the Kimber family escaped the fire without injury, but their home is a total loss

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Most Read