India’s farmers’ protest turned violent today as security forces used teargas and water cannons on some of the tens of thousands of tractors converging on the capital whose drivers had decided to break through barriers to spread the protest beyond police-approved routes.
The government says the agricultural reforms will liberalise the agriculture sector but farmers say they will lose income. Tens of thousands of them have been striking on the outskirts of Delhi since November, demanding the laws be repealed. They rejected a government offer to put the laws on hold last week. Police agreed to allow Tuesday’s rally after several rounds of talks on the condition that it would not interrupt the annual Republic Day parade, which takes place in central Delhi.
The farmers, angered by laws they say help large, private buyers at the expense of producers, have camped outside New Delhi for almost two months, posing one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Modi since he came to power in 2014.
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.
Agriculture employs about half of India’s population of 1.3 billion, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers worries the government.
The farmers are demanding a repeal of the laws dismantling the old distribution system, which were pushed through parliament in September with little debate allowed. Mr. Modi’s government has offered to delay implementation of the laws but hasn’t agreed to repeal them.