Indian farmers resume Delhi protest push after talks fail

PATIALA, INDIA   -  Thousands of Indian farmers riding tractors attempted to resume their push towards New Delhi on Wednesday af­ter failing to reach a deal with the government on their de­mands for higher crop prices.

The protest hopes to suc­cessfully replicate the year-long siege of highways into the capital that pressured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government into abandoning its agricultural reform plans in 2021.

Police have kept a miles-long column of farmers atop agricultural machinery at bay since last week near the small village of Shambhu, several hours’ drive north of their intended destination. 

Protesters again stared down efforts to disperse them with tear gas barrages and have vowed to push through a fearsome blockade of metal spikes and concrete barricades erected to halt their progress.

“We assure you that we will break the barriers,” farmer Jagmohan Singh, 45, told AFP. 

“Once we break it, we will only stop again in Delhi.”

Anticipating a fresh ef­fort to push past their road­blocks, police dropped tear gas on the roadside protest encampment from drones flying overhead.

Farmers responded by dis­tributing goggles and trying to bring down the aircraft by targeting them with sling­shots and flying kites to ob­struct their flight paths.

They have also brought bulldozers and excavators to the protest site, with the in­tention of charging through police barricades at an op­portune moment.

Police in Haryana state warned owners not to pro­vide the protesters with earthmovers, saying that they would be held crimi­nally liable if the vehicles harmed officers.

NEGOTIATIONS BREAK DOWN

Farm unions are demand­ing a law to set a minimum price on all crops, expanding a government scheme that already exists for staples in­cluding rice and wheat. 

They have also demanded other concessions including the waiving of loans and uni­versal pensions for farmers aged 60 and above. 

Protesters temporarily paused their procession last week to await the outcome of negotiations between government ministers and unions. They remained camped on the roadside, sustaining themselves at community kitchens, but announced their “March to Delhi” campaign would re­sume after several rounds of talks failed to reach a break­through.

Farm leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal told the Press Trust of India news agency Monday that the latest government proposal -- to expand price guarantees to some but not all crops -- was “not in the in­terest of farmers”.

Two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people draw their livelihood from agriculture, accounting for nearly a fifth of the country’s GDP.

But for the past few de­cades, farm incomes have remained largely stagnant and the sector is in dire need of investment and moderni­sation. Thousands of Indian farmers die by suicide ev­ery year because of poverty, debt and crops affected by ever-more erratic weather patterns caused by climate change. Farmers have po­litical influence due to their sheer numbers, and the re­newed protests come ahead of national elections likely to begin in April.

A campaign against agri­cultural reform laws in No­vember 2020 saw tens of thousands of farmers besiege roads into Delhi for more than a year. 

The protest forced a rare backdown from Modi’s gov­ernment when it suspended the laws a year later.

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