Thousands of protesting farmers poured into New Delhi on Tuesday, using their tractors to pull apart barricades and challenging government forces who fired tear gas, blocked internet access and charged demonstrators with bamboo sticks to bring some order to a capital that felt under siege.
It was the most violent escalation in two months of generally peaceful protests that have tested the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in unprecedented ways, forcing it to offer concessions to aggrieved farmers on new market-friendly laws that were intended overhaul the country’s agriculture sector. But the farmers have insisted on nothing short of repealing the laws that were pushed through parliament in September, leaving them, they say, vulnerable to corporate greed.
The deadlock boiled over in what – for Mr. Modi at least – was an embarrassing showdown that came on a national holiday and in the midst of a pandemic and economic slowdown that have also challenged his leadership.
As Mr. Modi saluted his officers and watched his country’s latest warplanes fly over a grand parade marking 72 years since India’s inception as a republic, protesters riding atop tens of thousands of tractors were dismantling barricades and rumbling toward the city centre.
By late evening, at least one person had died and many parts of the city seemed unnerved. Farm leaders, who had promised their march would be peaceful but had clearly lost control, distanced themselves from the violence and appealed to the protesters to return to the campsites they have occupied for the past two months at the capital’s borders.
Delhi police said 86 members of its force were wounded.
“Farmer agitators broke the agreed terms and started their march much before the agreed time,” Delhi police said in a statement. “The agitators chose the path of violence and destruction.”
Local television channels showed farmers placing the body of a protester in the middle of a road nearby. They said the man had been shot, but that could not be independently verified. New York Times reporters in the area saw wounded people carried away who said they had been hurt when a tractor tipped over. CCTV footage that aired on local television showed one tractor flipping after crashing into a police barricade at high speed.
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