Visuals also showed the police – outnumbered less than an hour into the start of protests – dropping smoke bombs from drones in an attempt to disperse the farmers.
Tear gas has been fired at farmers massing at the Shambhu border point between Punjab and Haryana – a key meeting point for farmers from each state heading to Delhi as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ call.
Distressing visuals show huge plumes of smoke – making visibility almost impossible – and hundreds of farmers and their supporters, as well as media personnel covering the protest, running helter-skelter to the sound of tear gas shells being fired in the background.
The shelling – the first signs of violence – broke as the clock struck noon and the mass of farmers began their push towards Delhi. An estimated two dozen shells were fired in two rounds, with no immediate signs of provocation by the farmers, except for beginning their planned protest.
Visuals also showed the police and security personnel – outnumbered less than an hour into the start of protests – dropping smoke bombs from drones in an attempt to disperse the farmers.
The Shambhu border crossing is over 200 km from Delhi.
Around 200 farmer unions – and an estimated one lakh farmers from neighbouring Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh – began marching on the national capital Tuesday morning, in a worrying replay of the 2020/21 protests, in which dozens died and the city was blockaded and cut-off for months.
Police in each of those states have been prepping for this protest for the past few days, dropping concrete slabs to block highways, and stop farmers and an army tractors pulling trolleys full of food and essential supplies – a signal of their intent to launch a second long-term protest.
Within Delhi, police have shut down key border crossings into each state, resulting in traffic jams at the Ghazipur and Chilla points, which connect the city with Ghaziabad and Noida in UP.
Other border points, including Singhu and Tikri, which were major protest sites four years ago, have also been fortified. These include setting up nail strips across roads to stop farmers’ vehicles from forcing their way past check posts and placing metal barricades, including barbed wire fences.
“We Have Everything We Need…”
Farmers marching on Delhi told NDTV they are coming prepared for another siege-like situation.
“From a needle to hammer, we have everything we need, including tools to break stones. We left our village with six months’ ration with us. We have enough diesel, even for our brothers from Haryana,” Harbhajan Singh, from Punjab’s Gurdaspur, who was part of the 2020 protest too, said.
“We didn’t budge through 13 months last time. We were promised our demands will be met, but the government didn’t keep its promise. This time, we will leave only after all our demands are met.”
Government Races To Contain Protests
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – aware of a potentially disastrous impact on its public image weeks before a general election – has already held one meeting with reps of protesting farmer unions.
Two union ministers, including junior Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, met farmer leaders late Monday. Some progress was made – an agreement was struck on repealing the Electricity Act, 2020 and on providing compensation to farmers killed in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri.
However, there was no resolution of the farmers’ primary concerns – a law to guarantee MSP, or minimum support price for all crops, loan waivers, and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations – meaning the second “Delhi Chalo” protest began as scheduled.