New Delhi (Web Desk): Indian farmers protesting against agricultural reforms breached barricades and entered the historic Red Fort complex in the capital and hoist Khalistan flags.
There were no confirmed casualties but today’s disorderly scenes and lingering swirls of gas on the outskirts offered a sharp contrast with televised images of the serried precision of marchers in the city centre’s annual military parade.
“Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now,” said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern breadbasket state of Punjab, as he marched past the barricades.
He was one of hundreds of protesters, some on horseback, who broke away from the main route of the tractor protest to head for central New Delhi, which hosts an annual Republic Day military parade.
They commandeered cranes and used ropes to tear down roadblocks miles from routes approved by the police, forcing constables in riot gear to fall back and let them pass, witnesses said.
Growers, angered by laws they say help large, private buyers at the expense of producers, have camped outside New Delhi for almost two months, posing one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014.
Agriculture employs about half of India’s population of 1.3 billion, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers worries the government.
Nine rounds of talks with farmers’ unions have failed to end the protests, as farm leaders rejected the government’s offer to delay the laws for 18 months, making a push for repeal instead.