Tractors rev up for massive farmer protest ahead of India’s Republic Day

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Farmers riding tractors will parade their machines during India’s Republic Day celebrations in the nation’s capital on Tuesday to step up their protests against three new reforms the growers fear would drive them to bankruptcy.

The police in Delhi said protest leaders have assured the tractor rally would not disrupt the annual military extravaganza, which will showcase India’s newly-imported French Rafale fighter jets.

The 72nd Republic Day celebrations will be a scaled-back affair, held without the customary attendance of a chief guest as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was invited to the event pulled out because of the Covid-19 health crisis in his country.

Peaceful protest assured

“We will have the tractor rally but there will be no disturbance on the ongoing Republic Day celebrations or the security arrangements for the Republic Day,” Delhi city police intelligence chief Depender Pathak told reporters on Sunday.

Farm unions said the event was not an attempt to browbeat the government.

“Through this parade we have to tell the country and the world of our plight,” said Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, one of the main unions.

“Our aim is not to conquer Delhi but to win over the hearts of the people of this country,” it said and asked participants to behave even as some farm leaders appeared unhappy with the permitted parade route.

Tractor armada rev up for parade

Up to 15,000 tractors were already parked on Delhi’s borders where the protesters have been camping at three sites since November 26, officer Pathak added.

Union leaders such as Yogendra Yadav said 100,000 tractors were on their way from two nearby states, where the agrarian unrest kicked off when the government turned three farm bills into laws in September.

“Our parade will be absolutely peaceful,” Sandhu promised as younger farm hands on Harley Davidson motorbikes were seen herding the slower tractors on highways.

Television footage Monday showed a fleet of tractors towing trolleys were on their way from India’s food-growing states of Haryana and Punjab.

Tractor-owning farmers from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, were also driving down to participate.

Fruitless talks so far

Indian farmers’ cranked up their agitation further after their 11th round of talks with India’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government ended without a result last week.

The government offered sweeping concessions but the farmers say they will return home only after the repeal of the laws they fear would leave them at the mercy of rich businesses.

“The government should take back these laws. After all, what is in the interest of the farmers is also what the government is aiming at,” food policy expert Devendra Sharma told a TV station.

Farm unions say the laws will also dismantle wholesale markets which determine cost of produce and hence force them to sell at a much lower prices in the open market.

They also want a law that will guarantee minimum assured price for their produce, which the government was reluctant to accept.

“They should understand the problems associated with what they are demanding,” BJP party spokesman Sudesh Verma said, arguing such a pay-out was beyond the capacity of India’s economy.

And as another farmers’ rally began elsewhere in India, Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar on Sunday blamed an “invisible force” for inciting farmers.