Tear gas has been fired at farmers massing at the Shambhu border point between Punjab and Haryana – a key meeting point for farmers from each state heading to Delhi as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ call.
Visuals showed huge plumes of smoke – making visibility almost impossible – and hundreds of farmers, as well as media personnel, running helter-skelter to the sound of tear gas shells being fired.
The shelling – the first signs of violence – broke as the clock struck noon and the farmers began their push to Delhi. An estimated two dozen shells were fired, despite no immediate signs of provocation.
Visuals from the Shambhu border – over 200 km from Delhi – also showed the police and security personnel – already outnumbered – dropping smoke bombs from drones to disperse the farmers.
Around 200 farmer unions – and an estimated one lakh farmers from neighbouring Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh – began marching on the national capital Tuesday morning, in a worrying replay of the 2020/21 protests, in which dozens died and the city was blockaded and cut-off for months.
Police in each of those states have been prepping for this protest for the past few days, positioning concrete slabs and heavy metal barricades to block highways, and stop farmers and tractors pulling trolleys full of food and essential supplies – a signal of their intent to launch a second long-term protest.
Concrete blocks and nails have also been placed on key roads leading into Delhi to prevent tractors and trollies from entering the city, where orders banning large gatherings are in force till March 12.
Within Delhi, police have shut down key border crossings into each state, resulting in traffic jams at the Ghazipur and Chilla points, which connect the city with Ghaziabad and Noida in UP.
Other border points, including Singhu and Tikri, which were major protest sites four years ago, have also been fortified. These include setting up nail strips across roads to stop farmers’ vehicles from forcing their way past check posts and placing metal barricades, including barbed wire fences.
Also in Delhi, police are practising firing teargas shells; a video accessed by NDTV shows cops firing teargas shells in an open area in north Delhi, an exercise that left area residents in discomfort.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the anti-protest measures; “Is the laying nails in the path of farmers ‘amritkaal‘ or ‘anyaykaal‘?” Ms Gandhi Vadra asked on X, attacking the ruling BJP for not fulfilling promises to farmers. “Mr Prime Minister! Why such behaviour with the country’s farmers? Why don’t you fulfil the promises…”
“We Have Everything We Need…”
Farmers marching on Delhi told NDTV they are coming prepared for another siege-like situation.
“From a needle to hammer, we have everything we need, including tools to break stones. We left our village with six months’ ration with us. We have enough diesel, even for our brothers from Haryana,” Harbhajan Singh, from Punjab’s Gurdaspur, who was part of the 2020 protest too, said.
“We didn’t budge through 13 months last time. We were promised our demands will be met, but the government didn’t keep its promise. This time, we will leave only after all our demands are met.”
Government Races To Contain Protests
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – aware of a potentially disastrous impact on its public image weeks before a general election – has already held one meeting with reps of protesting farmer unions.
Two union ministers, including junior Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, met farmer leaders late Monday. Some progress was made – an agreement was struck on repealing the Electricity Act, 2020 and on providing compensation to farmers killed in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri.
However, there was no resolution of the farmers’ primary concerns – a law to guarantee MSP, or minimum support price for all crops, loan waivers, and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations – meaning the second “Delhi Chalo” protest began as scheduled.
“The talks did not lead to any result. We will start our march to Delhi… we will, however, discuss proposals given by the government. The government is at fault here,” a farmer leader said.
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