Tens of thousands of farmers on flag-bedecked tractors drove through the outskirts Delhi as the country celebrated Republic Day on Tuesday in the backdrop of historic protests against three new agricultural laws.
Waving multi-coloured flags and holding placards, caravans of tractors took over the streets leading to Delhi.
The tractor rally overshadowed the pomp and colour of the traditional Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi – the annual military parade – which had already been scaled down this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Angry at what they see as laws that help private buyers at the expense of producers, tens of thousands of farmers have camped outside Delhi for two months now.
Representatives of the government and farmers have failed to make progress in repeated negotiations – at least 10 – over the core demand that the laws be scrapped. The government offered to make some amendments and suspend implementation of the legislation for 12 to 18 months. But farmers insist they will settle for nothing less than a complete repeal.
Tuesday’s show of strength and support, after the central government failed in its efforts to prevent the tractor march, further illustrated how the deadlock has left the Narendra Modi government in an embarrassing position.
While a thin crowd assembled beside the ceremonial Rajpath boulevard in New Delhi to watch a display of the country’s military power and cultural diversity, a sea of farmers swarmed the city’s borders to hold their own parade.
Farmers came in tractors decked with bright flags. Some came on horses, while others marched on foot. Authorities used trucks to barricade the main route to the site, where hundreds of police, some armed with assault rifles, tear gas and water cannon, stood guard.
At the Singhu border, the police used tear gas to stop the farmers from entering after protestors breached police barricades. But as more and more joined in, the police was eventually outnumbered.
“We want to show Modi our strength,” a farmer at Tikri border said, where protestors turned the rally into an occasion of jubilation with songs, dance and langar. At other places, farmers, wearing distinctive colourful turbans, shouted slogans against the prime minister and what they call his “black laws”.