India farmers

Tensions remain hight after violent weekend protests by farmers in India

The incident in Uttar Pradesh state was the deadliest in more than a year of protests by farmers in northern India
The incident in Uttar Pradesh state was the deadliest in more than a year of protests by farmers in northern India Money SHARMA AFP

Demonstrators torched a police vehicle in India on Monday as tensions boiled over after clashes involving protesting farmers killed at least nine people.

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The incident on Sunday in Uttar Pradesh state was the deadliest in more than a year of protests by farmers in northern India against new agricultural reforms.

Farmers said that a convoy belonging to a government minister, his son and the state's deputy chief minister ran over and killed four people at a demonstration.

The minister said later that a driver lost control of his vehicle after being pelted by demonstrators.

Angry protesters set fire to several cars and at least five more people, four of them supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were killed.

On Monday, the protesters kept the bodies of the four dead farmers in glass cases for display around the protest site.

 Police banned gatherings, cut off mobile internet services, sent extra forces and detained several opposition figures on their way to the scene including Priyanka Gandhi from the Congress party.

Protests also flared elsewhere a day after the vehicles rammed people in Uttar Pradesh while they were setting out to protest a visit of India’s junior interior minister Ajay Kumar Mishra Teni to the state, governed by the country’s ruling BJP party.

Troubling videos

TV footage showed men in blood-streaked clothing at the site in Lakhimpur Kheri, a dusty farming district some 450 kilometres from national capital Delhi.

Four of those killed were men said to be local farmers and at least two others were identified by media as BJP supporters.

Footage on social media showed at least two men being bludgeoned to death with blood-soaked sticks.

A journalist was also among those killed in the violence, according to local media. The identity of the eighth victim was immediately known.

 Both sides blamed the other for Sunday’s rioting, the first since September 2020 when farmers launched an agitation against the passage of three farm reform laws in the national parliament.

“My driver was among those killed but I was not even present there,” said Ashish Mishra, the federal minister’s son. He said people perhaps died after the under-attack SUVs lost control and overturned into the crowd.

Police has booked Mishra and some others for murder.

Minister Teni, responsible for enforcing order in India, called for a court-led probe as Uttar Pradesh ordered a clampdown and restrained opposition politicians from reaching the site.

Detentions off politicians

Priyanka Gandhi of India’s main opposition Congress party claimed she was pushed around and detained by the police while she was on her way to Lakhimpur Kheri, the BJP minister’s home borough.

 “An incident has occurred. A minister’s son ran over farmers and some farmers are dead. We have seen the horrendous videos. That man has not been arrested and his father has not resigned,” Gandhi told NDTV.

“This is the state of our nation,” said Gandhi, a scion of the charismatic Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has given three prime ministers to India.

On Monday, protesters torched a police Jeep in state capital Lucknow as officers detained former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, an opponent of the Hindu nationalist BJP which swept to power in 2014 in India.

“Such repression has no parallel in our country where even during British rule people had not been killed so brutally,” Cambridge-educated Yadav said.

Bhupesh Baghel, chief minister of Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh state, also asserted he was barred from visiting the bloody site.

 “Do we Indians now need visas to enter this state?” asked Baghel, an opponent of Yogi Adityanath, a fiery Hindu monk who is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

State offers probe

Adityanath, a trusted aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealed for calm, promised a free probe and offered cash compensation to families of those killed.

Some analysts predicted the development was likely to dominate campaigning in the run-up to politically-prestigious election next year to the 403-seat Uttar Pradesh assembly.

“This will not go down too well with farmers in particular and Indians in general,” said an analyst as an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, leading the 13-month-long  agitation, sought action against those involved in the farmers' deaths. 

“We will not rest idle,” warned Rakesh Tikait, a tall farm leader who insists the thorny reform laws will rob millions of cultivators of their livelihood and benefit rich corporations.

The government, which held rounds of fruitless talks with farmers since the agitation began, has dubbed the argument an opposition-orchestrated “propaganda.”

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