Delhi, Jan 26: Thousands of farmers knocked down police barricades and entered Delhi on foot this morning amid a huge police presence as they kicked off their tractor rally against the government’s new agricultural laws. With chaos unfolding near the city’s borders, protesters were baton-charged and tear gas shells were fired by policemen.
Amid celebrations for 72nd Republic Day across the country, farmers were allowed to hold their tractor rally – “Kisaan Parade” – in Delhi after the annual event at the iconic Rajpath. However, crowds swelled at the borders at around 8 AM even before the annual celebrations started.
Some cops were injured while trying to stop the protesters. Unprecedented visuals showed chaos unfolding at the Singhu border, which divides Delhi and Haryana and has been the epicenter of protests against the farm laws that began late November at the outskirts of the national capital. More than 5,000 protesters had gathered this morning near the Singhu border.
In west Delhi near the Tikri borders, farmers’ leaders asked the protesters to maintain calm after the march began at around 9 AM. “Our rally will be peaceful and we will stick to the routes assigned,” a leader said.
Thousands were seen marching with flags; rows of tractors were seen on the three routes that were cleared by the Delhi Police. A dramatic video from Delhi’s Akshardham showed policemen firing tear gas shells from an overbridge as protesters on road looked for cover.
On Sunday, Delhi Police had allowed the tractor rally after the annual Republic Day parade. The protesters were told they can’t disrupt the celebrations at Rajpath even as the farmers insisted their parade will be “peaceful”.
However, Delhi Police had also sounded a warning. “Mischievous elements can create a law-and-order situation,” Deependra Pathak, Special Commissioner of Police (Intelligence), said.
“Over 300 Twitter handles have been generated from Pakistan during January 13 to 18 to disrupt the tractor rally by farmers only by misleading people. There are inputs about the same from different agencies too. It will be a challenging task for us, but the rally will be conducted amid tight security after the Republic Day parade is over,” he added.
Sources in Delhi Police also warned of disruptions by Pakistan-based ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and “rogue elements linked to Khalistani outfits”.
Three routes were cleared for the farmers to hold the parade – a 63-km route near Singhu Border, a 62.5 km-long route from Tikri border, a 68-km long route from the Ghazipur border that divides Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
On Monday, one of the key participants – the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee – declared that it would not stick to the route agreed upon by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha and the police.
Earlier, the center had opposed the tractor rally on Republic Day in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, stressing it will be “an embarrassment to the nation”.
Eleven rounds of talks have been held between the farmers and the government but there has been no breakthrough. The farmers have turned down the center’s last offer to put the laws on hold for 18 months while a special committee conducts negotiations.