NEW DELHI: Indian police imposed heavy security and closed several main roads around New Delhi on Wednesday, a day after farmers went on the rampage in the capital, leaving one person dead and several hundred injured. If that was not enough, the Sikh farmers hoisted their religious flag atop the Red Fort.
On Tuesday — during the annual Republic Day parade — convoys of farmers on tractors smashed through barricades to converge on the city centre, seeing off police baton charges and volleys of tear gas. It was only minutes earlier that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was whisked away by security detail. Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava said in a press conference late Wednesday that 394 policemen had been injured. He said that at least 200 people had already been arrested and scores of others were being questioned.
On Wednesday morning a number of major roads were blocked as police and security forces set up barricades, leading to major traffic congestion. Riot police were stationed near the Red Fort.
“We take this illegal protest, violence and damage to the protected heritage monument Red Fort, where they raised religious and farm union flags, very seriously. Video footage is being scrutinised to identify those involved. No one will be spared,” the commissioner, Shrivastava, added.
The unrest was a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s Hindu nationalist government, for whom the farmer protests represent the biggest challenge since coming to power in 2014. Laws passed in September enabled farmers to sell to any buyer they chose, rather than to commission agents at state-controlled markets. But farmers fear this will leave them at the mercy of big agribusiness corporations.The violence could prove to be a setback for the farmers as well, by costing them support both among their own ranks and the wider population.
Farmer unions have condemned the unrest.“For the last two months they had been conducting their protest in a peaceful and dignified manner,” said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, a political analyst.“So even those who did not agree with them respected them. The violence has dented this a bit.”At the Singhu state border crossing, one of the main protest sites, the mood was deflated on Wednesday, and some accused government elements of being behind the violence.