- Written by Nikkila Henry in Delhi and Arvind Chhabra in Haryana
- BBC News
Police in northern India fired tear gas to prevent thousands of protesting farmers demanding minimum crop prices from marching in Delhi.
The capital is surrounded by barbed wire, cement blocks, and a fence on three sides to prevent protests.
The government fears a repeat of what happened in 2020, when dozens died in a year-long protest that only ended after ministers agreed to repeal controversial farm laws.
But just over two years later, farmers say other demands have not been met.
Indian farmers constitute an influential voting bloc, and analysts say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will be careful not to alienate them. His Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking to win a third consecutive term in power in this year's general elections.
Images on Tuesday showed heavy clouds of tear gas being used to disperse protesters near the city of Ambala, about 200 kilometers north of the capital.
Police also fired tear gas, as they did on Monday, on the Shambhu border between the states of Haryana and Punjab. Drones flew continuously above the crowd and dropped tear gas on people below.
A BBC Punjabi correspondent who was present said: “It rained tear gas bombs all day long.” There were some injuries among the crowd, most of whom were hit by plastic bullets fired by the police.
In response, some protesters threw stones at the police. Farmers used wet bags and clothes to protect themselves from tear gas shells.
The farmers, mostly from Punjab, say they wanted to cross Haryana safely to reach Delhi, but were not allowed to do so. Clashes between police and protesters were also reported at the Champo border and the situation remains tense.
In 2020, protesting farmers took shelter for several months, blocking national highways linking the capital to its neighboring states. The movement was considered one of the biggest challenges facing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
Traffic jams and disturbances were reported across Delhi on Tuesday, as authorities closed roads and diverted traffic.
Police also banned large gatherings in the city, including at the border points between the capital and the neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, through which farmers are expected to reach the capital.
In Haryana, the BJP-led state government suspended internet services in seven districts till Tuesday. Two rounds of talks between farm union leaders and federal ministers have so far failed to break the impasse.
Farmers are demanding guaranteed floor prices – also known as minimum support price – which allow them to sell most of their produce in government-controlled wholesale markets, or mandis. They also demand that the government fulfill its promise to double farmers' income.
On Monday, federal ministers held a six-hour meeting with agricultural union leaders. The two sides have reportedly reached an agreement on some demands, including the withdrawal of cases registered against demonstrators during the 2020 protests.
But there was no consensus on the MSP. In 2021, after the farm laws were repealed, the government said it would form a committee to find ways to ensure price support for all agricultural products. But the committee has not yet submitted its report.
More than 200 farmers' unions are participating in the march. “We will move peacefully and our aim is for the government to listen to our demands,” Sarvan Singh Pandheer, general secretary of the Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, told news agency ANI.
Farmers and labor unions also announced a rural strike on February 16 during which no agricultural activities will be carried out. Shops, markets and offices will be closed in all villages while farmers will block main roads across the country.
Read more India stories from the BBC:
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”