Thousands of Indian farmers protesting against agricultural reforms breached barricades on Tuesday to enter the historic Red Fort complex in the capital and hoisted flags after clashing with police, who fired tear gas to scatter them.
Growers, 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 Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014.
Eighty-six policemen have reported injured and several public and private properties have been damaged by the rioting people. The condition of two police personnel who were admitted to Lok Nayak Hospital following clashes with some farmers near the ITO crossing in central Delhi has turned critical.
A doctor supervising the emergency ward told IANS: “The two police officials have sustained injuries on their heads and are currently in the trauma ward. If their health deteriorates further, we will transfer them to the intensive care unit.”
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to stop protesting farmers despite police crackdown who entered the historic Red Fort complex in the capital and hoisted their flags.
It was reported that the Khalistan flag was hoisted atop the Red Fort. However, upon investigation, it was found to be the ‘Nishan Sahib’, which bears a close visual similarity to the Khalistan flag but has a very different symbolic meaning
Indian actor and activist, Deep Sidhu, who has been protesting for farmers’ rights, posted a video on Facebook, clarifying that only the Nishan Sahib was hoisted on the fort. “We have only hoisted the Nishan Sahib flag on the Red Fort while exercising our democratic right to protest.”
The body of one protester draped in an Indian tricolour lay in a central Delhi street after the tractor he rode overturned in one of the clashes, said a witness, Vishu Arora. “He died right there,” Arora added.
Some of those who scaled its walls carried ceremonial swords, overwhelming police who were trying to prevent them from entering. The government ordered internet services in some parts of the capital to be blocked, according to mobile carrier Vodafone Idea, in an attempt to prevent further unrest.
Tens of thousands of bearded and turbanned farmers, many bundled against the winter cold, began the day in a convoy of tractors festooned with Indian and union flags along the city’s fringes.But hundreds of protesters soon broke away from pre-approved routes, heading for the city centre where the government was holding an annual Republic Day parade of troops and military hardware on Tuesday morning.
“Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now,” said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern state of Punjab, who was among hundreds of protesters, some on horseback, who broke away from one of the three protest routes.
From the city’s north they headed towards the government buildings in the centre. They commandeered cranes and used ropes to tear down roadblocks, forcing constables in riot gear to give way.
A second group rode tractors to get to a key central traffic junction, also breaching barricades after similar clashes with police.
Hundreds also fought police outside the Delhi police headquarters. In a statement, Delhi police accused those who diverged from the agreed routes of “violence and destruction”.
“They have caused great damage to public property and many police personnel have also been injured,” the statement said. Protest organiser Samyukt Kisan Morcha said the groups deviating from set routes did not represent the majority of farmers.
Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab state where many of the protesters came from, called the clashes “shocking”.
“The violence by some elements is unacceptable,” he said in a tweet. “It’ll negate goodwill generated by peacefully protesting farmers.”
All over the city, security forces fired tear gas and staged baton charges.
But the farmers also laid into police with branches and metal bars and hijacked buses that had been used to block their convoys.
“Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now,” said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern state of Punjab, who was among hundreds of protesters, some on horseback, who broke away from the main route of a tractor protest.
Earlier, tens of thousands of bearded and turbanned farmers, many bundled against the winter cold, drove a convoy of tractors festooned with the Indian tricolour and union flags through the city’s fringes.
Legal action will definitely be taken against those who assaulted the police personnel during the farmers’ tractor rally, said Alok Kumar, Joint Commissioner of Police, Delhi.
Meanwhile, farmer unions’ body Samyukt Kisan Morcha announced that farmers’ movement will continue peacefully, further steps will be decided soon.