As tens of thousands of farmers protesting against agricultural reforms streamed into the capital ahead of Republic Day festivities, tractor caravans obstructed a main highway in northern India on Monday.
As a republic, India celebrates its establishment on Tuesday with a military parade in the historic centre of the capital, but farmers, who are seeking a rollback of the deregulation effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are preparing their own peaceful display of power.
“We’re going to teach Modi a lesson he’s never going to forget,” said one of the demonstrators, from the Punjab district of Ludhiana, who drove his own tractor. The 35-year-old, who cultivates four hectares (10 acres), pleaded not to be named.
As the long procession of cars rolled down National Highway 44, joined by scores of collective kitchens to dish out hot meals and drinks in the winter chill, loudspeakers blared anti-government songs.
For around two months, farmers largely from the breadbasket states of Punjab and adjacent Haryana have blocked approaches to New Delhi to protest against three new farm laws that they claim would damage their livelihoods and benefit big businesses.
After opposing a government plan to postpone the measures it says would initiate much-needed steps to raise farmers’ incomes, their unions are calling for the abolition of the rules.
Several rounds of talks have yielded no headway with the government of Modi, and demonstrators are now trying to up the ante with the procession scheduled to accompany the military parade on Tuesday.
The annual high-security parade is attended by top politicians and military officers to commemorate the day that India’s constitution took effect in 1950.
On the weekend, police said they would authorise at least 12,000 tractors to cross a distance of 100 kilometres (62 miles) across the capital, despite some intelligence alerts about potential attempts to interrupt the peaceful rally of farmers.
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In detailed guidelines given for Tuesday’s gathering, a farmers’ group urged its members to refrain from violence.
Note, our goal is not to conquer Delhi, but to win the hearts of this county’s people,’ it said.
Thousands of farmers were also on the march in the western state of Maharashtra, flocking to a flag-hoisting ceremony in the heart of Mumbai, the financial capital of India, on Tuesday.
“Ashok Dhawale, a state protest leader, said, “We are here to help farmers in Delhi, to highlight that farmers across the country are against farm laws.