By Archana Chaudhary,
The Narendra Modi government looks set for a prolonged confrontation with farm groups over controversial new agricultural laws, with both sides refusing to cede ground after a day of clashes between police and protesters in New Delhi.
Police have launched investigations into several key leaders who’ve been at the forefront of the protests against the laws, which farmers say will hurt their incomes and leave them vulnerable to big corporations. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been camped at various border points around New Delhi for two months calling for the laws’ repeal.
Delhi’s Police Commissioner S.N. Srivastava told a media conference on Wednesday some farm leaders had incited violence with provocative speeches, adding that the police was examining video footage to identify those who clashed with security forces. “No one will be spared,” Srivastava said. “Strict action will be taken” against those involved.
Read: Farmers tractor rally: Centre to use iron fist to deal with violence
Tensions came to a head on Tuesday during the Republic Day celebrations, when thousands of farmers broke through police barricades and drove their tractors into the capital, where they were faced with a barrage of tear gas from security forces who charged at demonstrators with batons in an attempt to quell the escalation. Despite the violence in parts of central Delhi tens of thousands of farmers also marched peacefully.
The dispute has added to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to reverse a contraction in Asia’s third-largest economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes days before a parliament session where the government will present its annual budget on Feb. 1.
Protest chief Yogendra Yadav told reporters the farmer leaders took “moral responsibility” for the desecration at the iconic Red Fort, where Indian prime ministers address the nation on independence day, and sought an investigation into why disrupters were allowed to enter prohibited areas despite warnings. The farm unions have called off the planned Feb. 1 march on parliament but vowed the agitation would continue, he said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
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If both sides refused to budge, the situation was bound to worsen, said Narendra Pani, an economics professor focusing on conflict and security studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru.
“The government is looking at the problems of farmers as an economic problem, whereas for the farmers this is about survival,” Pani said. “What happened yesterday when most farmers seemingly followed rules but some broke them -- this could be one way to break away urban support for the farmers.”
Protest leaders had rejected Modi’s offers to temporarily shelve the three laws passed in September that overhauled the way farm goods are sold in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, almost half of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The government has defended the legislation, saying it would eliminate middlemen in state-run wholesale markets, increase earnings for farmers and make India more self-reliant.
The protesters are insisting that a special session of parliament be called to repeal the laws and make it mandatory for private companies to pay the minimum prices and they’ve so far refused to talk with a mediation panel set up by the top court.