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Thousands of Indian farmers resume march to Delhi after talks with government fail

Farmers guide a modified excavator, during a protest demanding better crop prices, promised to them in 2021, at Shambhu Barrier, a border crossing between Punjab and Haryana states, India, February 20, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

Thousands of Indian farmers, equipped with cranes and excavators, have resumed their protest march to the capital after four rounds of talks with the government failed to make a breakthrough.

On Wednesday, the Shambhu border, which separates the states of Punjab and Haryana, was met with thousands of demonstrating farmers who made preparations to breach the layers of barriers using bulldozers and earth-movers.

After lessons learned from the previous attempt to enter Delhi last week, when police fired tear gas shells at the protesters through drones along with rubber bullets, the farmers have modified the advanced machinery and is said to withstand potential police actions, such as rubber bullets and shotgun pellets.

The farmers have also included gas masks and gloves to their list of defensive measures, for their ‘Dilli Chalo’ march (let’s go to Delhi).

India Farmers Protest
A farmer wears swimming goggles to protect himself from tear gas fired by the police, at the site where farmers are marching towards New Delhi to press for better crop prices promised to them in 2021, at Shambhu barrier, a border crossing between Punjab and Haryana states, India, February 21, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

On Tuesday evening, the head of the Haryana police issued a prompt directive to seize the heavy equipment without delay, aiming to prevent its utilization by protesters for the purpose of demolishing barricades.

"It is reliably learnt that heavy earth-moving equipment, including proclain (digger), JCB etc., that have been further modified/armor-plated have been acquired by protesting farmers and have been deployed at the border locations where the protesters are camping right now," the letter written by the Haryana director general of police (DGP) stated.

Meanwhile, Punjab's DGP, Gaurav Yadav, has ordered all high-ranking police officials to stop the movement of diggers, heavy trucks, hydras, and other heavy earth-moving equipment “towards the Haryana-Punjab border at Khanauri and Shambhu by laying 'nakas' (blockades), conducting patrolling and (taking) other required steps".

According to reports, tear gas shells were fired by the Haryana police on Wednesday, after some young farmers started heading towards the multi-layered barricades at the border point, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

The farmers' leaders on Tuesday declined a five-year contract proposal to purchase certain crops at guaranteed prices, stating that the offer did not align with their best interests.

The government has proposed buying pulses, maize, and cotton at fixed floor prices, known as Minimum Support Price or MSP, through cooperatives for five years. However, farmers are demanding a legally binding assurance for MSP on all 23 crops.

Belonging mostly to the state of Punjab, the farmers have assembled around Delhi’s borders, which have been fortified with layers of barricades, concrete blocks, and barbed wires to prevent their entry into the capital.

The Shambhu border, situated around 200 kilometers far from Delhi, has ended up becoming ground zero for farmers who have been stationed at this location for a week now, since February 14, following the authorities' decision to prevent them from advancing further.

The farmers, who are requesting guaranteed prices for their harvest, claim that they are arriving well-equipped with several months' worth of provisions.

According to the central government, close to 14,000 people have assembled at the border along with 1,200 tractor-trolleys, 300 cars, and 10 mini-buses as well as small vehicles.

Farmers have continuously stated that their march is peaceful and have asked the government to allow them entry into the capital.

"It is not right that such massive barricades have been placed to stop us," one of the farmer's leaders, Jagjit Singh Dallewal told Reuters, adding that "We want to march to Delhi peacefully. If not, they should accede to our demands."

"We tried our best from our side. We attended the meetings and discussed every issue, now the decision lies with the government. We will remain peaceful but we should be allowed to remove these barriers and march towards Delhi," farm leader Sarwan Singh Pandher told reporters.

Owing to the confrontations, the capital witnessed heavy traffic on Wednesday, after the demonstrating farmers planned to resume their march to Delhi.

The demonstrations come months ahead of the 2024 Indian general elections, where the incumbent Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is said to win big owing to its large majority of Hindu voters.

The authorities fear a repeat of the 2020 protest, which resembled the one at the Shambhu border and was organized as a sit-in demonstration by farmers predominantly from Punjab for months.

The situation escalated into violence on Republic Day in 2021 when the farmers breached the capital, posing a significant challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi administration.

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