As the finance minister prepared to present the government’s annual budget in parliament, Indian police and paramilitary dug ditches and stretched razor wire around major roads into New Delhi on Monday to block protesting farmers from entering the capital.
In some neighbourhoods on the outskirts where demonstrations turned violent last week, Internet and texting networks were disrupted and security around parliament and other main government offices in the central district was stepped up.
When parliament is in session, the government has strengthened protection to prevent any confrontation or violence, said a senior official who did not want to be appointed in accordance with official policy. “The idea is to keep everybody safe and to avoid any tension escalation.”
On January 26, as India marked its Republic Day with a military parade, a farmers’ procession turned violent when some demonstrators emerged from a rally of tractors to charge into the historic Red Fort complex after breaking through barricades and clashing with police.
Authorities used tear gas and batons on Friday to break up confrontations at one of the demonstration sites outside the capital. And more farmers, along with their tractors, have arrived in the past few days to join their protesting colleagues at the three main protest sites near New Delhi.
“On January 26 in Delhi, the country was saddened by the insult to the Tricolor [Indian flag],” Modi said in a radio address on Sunday, giving his first public remarks on the abuse of last week.
“The government is committed to agricultural modernization and is taking many steps in that direction, too.”
The farmers want the government to revoke three new farm laws that they claim will harm their livelihoods and help big private produce buyers, implemented by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September.
The government says the changes would open up new possibilities for farmers and has called for new talks with farmers’ leaders to break the deadlock.
Though Modi remains the most successful politician in India, his role in rural areas, where most Indians live, may be weakened by his handling of the two-month-old agitation of the farmers.