Indian police used tear gas on farmers who clashed with officers and tried to break barricades blocking their way to New Delhi to demand guaranteed crop prices in a repeat of 2021 protests, when they camped on the outskirts of the capital for more than a year.
Police dropped tear gas canisters on the protesting farmers from a drone at one of the border points in northern Haryana state that leads to New Delhi, where tens of thousands of farmers were headed in tractors and trucks.
Officers sealed multiple entry points into the capital with barriers of giant metal containers, barbed wire, spikes and cement blocks.
The government banned large gatherings in the capital and suspended internet service in some districts of Haryana state to prevent communication among the protesters.
The farmers, who began their march in northern Haryana and Punjab states, are asking for legislation that will guarantee a minimum support price for all farm produce.
The government protects agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices by announcing a minimum purchase price for certain essential crops at the beginning of the sowing season, taking into account the cost of production.
Farmers are also pressing the government to keep its promise to double their income and waive their loans. They say they will protest in New Delhi until their demands are met.
The withdrawal of the agricultural laws in November 2021 was seen as a major retreat by the Modi government, which was shocked in January that year when tens of thousands of farmers stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi.
Sarwan Singh Pandher, a leader of one of the farmers’ groups, told reporters on Tuesday: “We do not want to break any barricades. We want a resolution of our issues through dialogue. But if they (the government) do nothing, then what will we do? It is our compulsion.”
He said talks between farm leaders and government ministers on Monday had failed to produce any consensus on their key demands and the government refused to make a decision.
The current demonstration, called “Delhi Chalo” or “March to Delhi”, comes just months before a national election in which Mr Modi is widely expected to win a third term.
The protests could pose a significant challenge for Mr Modi and his governing Bharatiya Janata Party as farmers form the most influential voting bloc in India and politicians have long considered it unwise to alienate them.
India’s opposition Congress party said it will address the farmers’ demand for a law ensuring a minimum support price if it is voted into power in the forthcoming national election.
“This is the first guarantee of Congress on the path of justice,” party leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Some farmer and trade unions have also announced a countrywide rural strike on Friday.