Indian farmers protesting agricultural reforms broke barricades and clashed with police in the capital on Tuesday, who fired tear gas to restrain them, shortly after a tractor convoy tore through the outskirts of the city.
Growers have been camping outside New Delhi for nearly two months, angered by-laws they say help large, private buyers at the expense of producers, posing one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014.
Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern breadbasket state of Punjab, said, “Modi will hear us now, he’ll have to hear us now,” as he marched past the barricades.
He was one of hundreds of protesters, some on horseback, who broke off the main tractor protest route to central New Delhi, hosting the annual military parade on Republic Day.
They commanded cranes and used ropes to tear down road blocks miles from police-approved routes, forcing riot gear constables to fall back and let them pass, witnesses from Reuters said.
Reuters was unable to reach police officials for comment immediately.
Earlier, the day began with tens of thousands of bearded and turbid farmers, many bundled against the winter cold, driving a convoy of tractors festooned through the city fringe with the Indian tricolour and their union flags.
Agriculture employs around half of India’s 1.3 billion population, and the government is concerned about unrest among an estimated 150 million land-owning farmers.
The protests have failed to end nine rounds of talks with farmers’ unions, as farm leaders rejected the government’s offer to delay the laws for 18 months, instead making a push for repeal.
They have the resources to mobilise support, and for a long time, to continue the protest. In keeping the protest really focused, they have also been very successful.
The protests threaten to overshadow the annual military parade to mark India’s constitution’s adoption in 1950.
“Instead of January 26, they might have chosen any other day, but they have now announced it,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the media on Monday.