One protester dies while 200 police agents are injured in clashes. Prosecutors open investigation against 37 union leaders. Two major trade unions break ranks and will no longer participate in protests. For experts, India’s agricultural reform needs modernisation.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Police arrested 200 protesters following yesterday's violent clashes with farmers who oppose Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farm reform.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, drove their tractors into downtown Delhi. They have been camping outside the city since the end of November. One protester died and 300 policemen were injured.
By agreement with the authorities, the protest had to proceed along a predetermined route, without entering downtown Delhi, where Republic Day celebrations were being held. However, thousands of protesters forced the police blockade and poured into Delhi’s historic Red Fort. Police armed with sticks and iron bars responded with tear gas to push back the crowd.
Protest camps had already blocked several highways on the outskirts of Delhi, causing major traffic problems in the city’s residential and industrial sectors.
Meanwhile, prosecutors opened an investigation against 37 union leaders in connection with the protest. Most protesters dissociated themselves from the violence, which they blame on isolated elements.
The Red Fort debacle has split the farmers' front. Two important trade unions, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and the Bharatiya Kisan Union, have announced that they will abandon the protests.
Adopted in September, the farm reform liberalises India’s agricultural market. Indian farmers can now sell to anyone at any price, instead of selling to government agencies at a fixed price.
Growers, especially small farmers, want the reform to be scrapped and the old “managed” system to be restored, with the guarantee of a minimum price for their produce. Farmers fear that the new rules will allow big groups to monopolise the market and impose lower prices.
Prime Minister Modi has defended the reform, saying it will bring great benefits to tens of millions of growers. Government supporters also note that the legislation does not eliminate the system of buying at a fixed price for rice and grains by public agencies.
Most Indian economists and experts think the same way. However, they are critical of the government for not consulting farmers before imposing the measure.