Tractor rally aims to overshadow India's show of military might

New Delhi (AFP) –


Thousands of tractors gathered outside New Delhi on Monday, gearing up to rival an annual parade of tanks and troops on India's Republic Day in a protest against the government's agricultural reforms.

Since November, protesters have camped at the entry points to New Delhi, opposing farming laws which they say will invite conglomerates to dominate the agricultural sector.

Farmers plan to stage a huge rally involving tractors on Tuesday, following India's annual military parade in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Republic Day celebrations.

Thousands of tractors, decorated with giant India tricolour flags, have already assembled at three main sites at the entrances of the capital.

Another 10,000 farmers have also gathered in the western city of Mumbai to show solidarity.

The government has positioned security forces throughout the capital to keep the farmers away from what is traditionally a prestigious day on the Indian political calendar.

Britain's Boris Johnson was to attend Tuesday but withdrew because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The farmers say they want to stage a "peaceful" tractor rally into Delhi aimed at "winning the hearts" of the population.

"For the first time ever farmers will take part in their own Republic Day parade," said Yogendra Yadav whose Swaraj India party has supported the protests.

"Barricades will be opened and farmers will be allowed to enter Delhi and hold their march," he said.

The government had opposed the farmers' rally, saying it would be an "embarrassment for the nation" on such an important day.

But police said they would allow 12,000 tractors into the city after the government parade.

The new regulations will enable farmers to sell produce on the open market instead of only through state-run bodies that guarantee a minimum price.

But farmers have demanded the government repeal the laws that would leave them at the mercy of big corporates

The government has offered to freeze implementation of the reforms for 18 months, but several rounds of talks between unions and ministers have failed to end the deadlock.