Protesting farmers stormed the Indian capital with violence breaking out across different places as the country observed muted Republic Day celebrations.
With a truncated celebration commemorating India’s Republic Day on Tuesday, thousands of farmers who have been camping on the outskirts for over two months stormed into the capital, fighting pitched battles with the police after they breached barricades.
The chaos unfolded despite the police giving farmers camping at Delhi’s three borders permission to hold their tractor rallies on specific routes, only after the official 72nd Republic Day parade and not venture into the city.
Chaos unfolds in capital
But hours before the allocated time, farmers pulled down the barricades and concrete blocks using their tractors, prompting police to fire tear gas and resort to a baton charge at several points in central Delhi to quell the protesters.
While some farmers traveled on tractors, others were on horseback and on foot, marching purposefully in the direction of the heart of the city.
One protester was reportedly killed and several police personnel injured, police said.
Call to roll back laws
“Many of the farmers refused to use the designated routes that were agreed upon. There was compete chaos after that,” Shalini Singh, joint commissioner of police told RFI.
Groups of farmers even entered the iconic Red Fort after breaching police cordon, attacking personnel and managed to hoist their own flag on the ramparts after clambering the walls.
“We condemn violence against farmers, appeal to all to maintain peace. We disassociate with the unruly elements responsible for the violence,” Balbir Singh Rajewal, a farmer leader told RFI.
Farmers have been demanding the rollback of three farming laws passed by the government which they feel will leave them at the mercy of corporate giants that would take over their businesses.
Farm unions say the laws will also dismantle wholesale markets which determine cost of produce and hence force them to sell at much lower prices in the open market.
A curtailed Republic Day
Just some kilometers away from the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet ministers had finished watching the parade march down Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard, a few hours earlier.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the event was pared down in terms of the number of spectators, the size of marching contingents and a shorter route for the parade.
The size of marching contingents was reduced from 144 to 96 and the spectacular stunts by motorcycle-borne men also did not make the cut.
For the first time in 55 years, there was also no chief guest at this year’s parade, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed out at the last moment because of rising coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom.
French made Rafale fighter jets, which were inducted into the Indian Air Force last year, featured in the parade flypast. Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, who was among the first female fighter pilots, created history as the first woman fighter pilot to participate in the Republic Day parade as well.
For the second year in a row, Republic Day celebrations in the national capital was held under the shadow of raging protests against laws passed by Modi’s government.
In 2020, it was the agitation against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. The legislation was seen as anti-Muslim as it grants citizenship rights to minorities from Muslim majority neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Farmers have now threatened to march to parliament on February 1 when the country’s new budget will be presented.