Photo credit Press Trust of India

ISLAMABAD, Jan 26 (APP): Thousands of farmers in tractor convoys on Tuesday burst through police barricades to take their protest against new farm laws to the heart of India’s capital as the nation marked Republic Day with a military parade.

Angry farmers frustrated with the policies of the Narendra Modi government policies unleashed unprecedented chaos as they took over the Iconic Mughal-era Red Fort in the Old City. The farmers entered the forecourt of the fort, climbed its ramparts, and hoisted a religious flag on a mast outside.

One protester was killed while several others injured in the police baton charge. Pitched battles were reported by eyewitnesses and news channels at several locations across Delhi. Police had sealed most entrances to the city with containers and trucks and resorted to tear gas and batons as the farmers broke through.

Some protesters reached a major intersection only 3km (1.8 miles) from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other government leaders watched tanks and troops parade past and fighter jets fly overhead, Al Jazeera reported.

Modi waved to crowds and sent out Twitter greetings for the national holiday without mentioning the farmers.

He was driven back to his residence before any personal confrontation with the farmers, the biggest challenge his Hindu nationalist government has faced in its six years in power.

Authorities had agreed to let the farmers stage a tractor rally as long as they waited for the official Republic Day parade to end.

Hundreds and thousands of farmers had been camping out in protest on the outskirts of the capital for over two months protesting against new laws that deregulate produce markets.. They were joined by farmers from the northern states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Rajasthan, on the border over the past few days, to hold their own march coinciding with India’s Republic Day.

 

But flag-waving protesters on at least four major arteries climbed over or just pushed aside the barricades and concrete blocks and pressed on into the city.

Union leaders say the laws will allow private Indian conglomerates to take over the agriculture sector – the bedrock of the economy – displacing the existent system of purchases by the government at guaranteed prices.

National Convener of Congress Saral Patel said it had been exposed that who was behind the violence to disrupt the peaceful protest of farmers.

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Smaller farmer demonstrations were also held in other cities, including Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Indian lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan said, “So, is the BJP trying to fish in the farmers waters to defame the movement?”

India’s columnist and author Tavleen Shah on her Twitter account questioned the scenario of chaos in New Delhi with a hint that ‘how the intelligence agencies did not know that the farmers protest was likely to turn violent?’

There was also a strong reaction from the internet users over the shutdown of broadband services in the capital New Delhi. The people took to social media to vent their anger and said the “Modi government wants to silence dissent & commit acts of violence against the farmers.”

Scenes of violent clashes of police with farmers went viral on several social media platforms, showing the farmers taking over sections of the Red Fort as the riot police make a quick retreat.

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According to the NDTV, in a late evening development Union Home minister Amit Shah held a high-level meeting which agreed to deploy additional paramilitary forces in Delhi. Punjab and Haryana have been placed under high alert. The Internet has been suspended in parts of the National Capital Region — including Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

The violent clashes left 831 police personnel injured and were admitted to different hospitals in New Delhi, according to Indian media reports.

The Indian farmers, the majority from the minority Sikh community hoisted a flag at the Red Fort; which was claimed to be that of the separatist movement Khalistan. However the Indian media was at pains to explain that the flag hoisted was “Nishan Sahib” and not that of Khalistan. However the Sikh community believed that the flag atop the Red Fort was a symbolic victory over the fascist Narendra Modi government.

Flags hoisted at Red Fort by Indian farmers

The protest on agriculture reforms has rekindled the demand for a separate homeland for the Sikhs, who, like the Muslim minority, have been facing persecution by the Hindutva ideology, aggressively being pursued by the government of Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP.

The Sikh separatist movement was launched by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale – a Sikh religious leader who first appeared around 1978 from relative obscurity.

According to US Congressional records, around 250,000 Sikhs have been killed by the Indian government.

The Narendra Modi government is confronting around 19 separatist movements across the country, stemming from denial of expression, gross violation of human rights, discrimination, and decades of persecution by the ruling majority Hindu community.

India Separatist Movements

 -APP Digital Report by Shumaila Andleeb, with additional reporting by Shafek Koreshe