Indian farmers pause protest march to Delhi after government offers talks

Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

SHAMBHU, India: Indian farmers demanding higher prices for their produce paused their protest on Wednesday after the government made a new offer to resume talks, hours after police fired tear gas and used water cannons to scatter thousands staging a march to Delhi.

The farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been demanding higher prices backed by law for their crops. They form an influential bloc of voters Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to anger ahead of general elections due by May.

Farmers’ leader Sarwan Singh Pandher told reporters they would pause their protest for two days and deliberate their next course of action until Friday after the government offered anew to resume talks on farmers’ demand for guaranteed crop prices.

“The government is ready to discuss all the issues,” Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda posted on social network X.

“I again invite the farmer leaders for discussion. It is important for us to maintain peace.” Earlier on Wednesday, protesters - some wearing medical masks- ran into fields near their gathering-point on a highway about 200-km north of New Delhi after police fired tear gas.

Pandher claimed that one protester was killed and three injured at another protest site 100-km away, but police in Haryana state denied it.

Video clips on local media showed police using water cannons and farmers aiming a hose pipe of water at the site.

On Monday, the farmers’ groups rejected the government’s previous proposal for five-year contracts and guaranteed support prices for produce such as corn, cotton and pulses. The farmers, accompanied by cranes and excavators, began marching at 0530 GMT from a spot on a key highway where authorities had erected barricades on the border of Punjab state with Haryana.

“It is not right that such massive barricades have been placed to stop us,” said one of the farmers’ leaders, Jagjit Singh Dallewal. “We want to march to Delhi peacefully. If not, they should accede to our demands.” Police in riot gear lined the highway as the farmers waved colourful flags emblazoned with symbols of their unions.

Late on Tuesday, Haryana’s police chief ordered the immediate seizure of heavy equipment brought by the farmers, to keep protesters from using them to destroy barricades. About 10,000 people had gathered on Wednesday, along with 1,200 tractors and wagons at Shambhu on the state border, police in Haryana posted on X.