- By Nikhila Henry in Delhi and Arvind Chhabra in Haryana
- bbc news
Police in northern India have fired tear gas to prevent thousands of protesting farmers demanding minimum prices for crops from marching towards Delhi.
The Capitol is surrounded by razor wire, cinder blocks and fencing on three sides to keep protests at bay.
The government fears a repeat of what happened in 2020: dozens of people died in a year-long protest that ended only after ministers agreed to repeal the controversial farm laws.
But just over two years later, farmers say other demands have not been met.
India’s farmers form an influential voting bloc and analysts say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will be keen not to alienate them. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third consecutive term in power in this year’s general elections.
Footage from Tuesday showed thick clouds of tear gas used to disperse protesters near the city of Ambala, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital. On Monday, police fired tear gas at the Shambhu border between the states of Haryana and Punjab.
The farmers, most of whom are from Punjab, say they want to peacefully cross Haryana to reach Delhi, but have not been allowed to do so. Clashes between police and protesters have also been reported at the Shambhu border and the situation remains tense.
In 2020, protesting farmers barricaded themselves in for months, blocking national highways connecting the capital to its neighboring states. The move was seen as one of the biggest challenges for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Traffic jams and disruptions were reported across Delhi on Tuesday as authorities blocked roads and diverted traffic.
Police have also banned large gatherings in the city, including at border points between Delhi and the neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, through which farmers are expected to reach the capital.
In Haryana, the BJP-led state government suspended internet services in seven districts till Tuesday. Two rounds of talks between farm union leaders and federal ministers have so far failed to break the deadlock.
Farmers are demanding guaranteed minimum prices, also known as minimum support price or MSP, to allow them to sell most of their produce in government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis. They also demand that the government fulfill its promise to double farmers’ incomes.
On Monday, federal ministers held a six-hour meeting with farm union leaders. Both sides have reportedly reached an agreement on some of the demands, including withdrawal of cases registered against protesters during the 2020 protests.
But there was no consensus on MSP. In 2021, after the farm laws were repealed, the government had said it would set up a panel to find ways to ensure support prices for all agricultural products. But the committee has not yet submitted its report.
More than 200 farmer unions are participating in the march. “We will act peacefully and our aim is to make the government listen to our demands,” Sarvan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, told news agency ANI.
Farmers and unions have also announced a rural strike on February 16 during which no agricultural activities will take place. Shops, markets and offices will be closed in all villages, while farmers will block major roads across the country.