New Delhi: Thousands of Indian farmers marched all night to intensify their protests against colleagues camped in the suburbs of the capital, New Delhi, and urged the government to revoke three new agricultural laws, which they said would harm their livelihoods.
During the confrontation between riot police and farmers, the authorities tried to clean up protest sites in the east of the city, but most farmers refused to move. Their leaders said that any retreat would constitute surrender.
“Concerned over police high-handedness, thousands of farmers, who were not part of the protest, have now come to bolster our movement,” Rakesh Tikait, president of one of the largest farmers unions, the Bharti Kisan Union, told Reuters on Friday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced the new agricultural laws in September, triggering a wave of protests and sit-ins on some of the major approaches to New Delhi.
Farm leaders say the laws are an attempt to erode a longstanding mechanism that ensures farmers a minimum support price for their rice and wheat.
The government says the reforms will open up new opportunities for farmers and it says it will not bow to the protesters’ demands.
Modi retains a solid majority in parliament although the protests are beginning to undermine some support for the government in the countryside and play on old loyalties.
Farmer leaders have accused authorities of acting at the behest of politicians affiliated with Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The union leader, Tikait, comes from a politically influential agricultural community in Uttar Pradesh (the most populous state in northern India). In several villages, members of the dominant Jat community will meet on Friday to support the protests.
On Tuesday, India held a military parade to celebrate “Republic Day” and the protests turned into violence. At that time, some protesters got rid of the tractors of the parade, broke through roadblocks and clashed with the police.