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India: nine people die in farmers’ protests against new laws | India

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Nine people have been killed in violent clashes during a protest by hundreds of farmers in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in a deadly escalation of year-long demonstrations against contentious agriculture laws.

The farmers had gathered for a demonstration on Sunday in Lakhimpur Kheri district, where the junior home affairs minister Ajay Mishra and the state’s deputy chief minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya, were due to visit.

There are conflicting reports of how four farmers, three BJP party workers, a driver and a journalist died as chaotic scenes broke out around vehicles that were part of Mishra’s convoy.

Farmers at the scene alleged that a car thought to be owned by Mishra’s son ran over four protesters, killing them.

Mishra said his son was not present in the car when the incident took place. He said a car driven by “our driver” lost control and hit the farmers after they threw stones at the vehicle and attacked it with sticks and a sword.

The son, Ashish Mishra, also denied being present and said he had been at home when the collision with the farmers happened. He told an India television news channel that his car and two others had been sent out with party workers who were to greet the state’s deputy chief minister, while he stayed behind.

Mishra told local media the protesters had killed three workers from the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) – the ruling party at the national level and in Uttar Pradesh – and one driver.

On Monday, a journalist’s body was also recovered from the scene, bringing the death toll to nine.

Police have registered a criminal complaint against 14 people, including the minister’s son, in connection with the death of the four farmers. The BJP also lodged a criminal complaint against the protesting farmers over the death of its members and the car driver.

Farmers opposed to a series of new farm laws they say will destroy their livelihoods had gathered to try to blockade a visit by Mishra, who had recently made inflammatory comments about the protests.

Tensions remained high in the Lakhimpur Kheri area on Monday, as farmers gathered to protest again and mobile internet services were shut down. The leader of the Congress party, Priyanka Gandhi, who had attempted to visit the area, was arrested and detained by police on the grounds of unlawful assembly, and other opposition leaders were also blocked from entering.

Farmers across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka held protests on Monday.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, described the incident as “unfortunate” and ordered a judicial inquiry into events. “The government will ensure that the matter is thoroughly investigated and the involvement of antisocial elements is brought to light. We will take strict action against those involved,” he said in a tweet.

There are fears that the incident will further inflame tensions between the farmers and the BJP government, led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi. It comes just a few days after farmers marked the first anniversary of the passing of the new farm laws, referred to by protesting farmers as “black laws”.

The BJP government says the laws will help modernise agriculture in India, which is heavily subsidised, suffers huge losses and takes a heavy environmental toll. But farmers, who make up almost two-thirds of India’s workforce, say the new legislation will destroy their livelihoods and leave them at the mercy of large corporations.

Since November, through the cold winter, baking summer, monsoons and India’s deadly Covid-19 second wave in April, tens of thousands of farmers have remained camped out on highways along the edge of the capital, Delhi, demanding that the laws be repealed, in one of the biggest challenges to the BJP government. The farm laws remain suspended due to the powerful backlash from the farming community but the Modi government has said it will not bow to demands and repeal the laws.

This was not the first time that the farmer protests have been shrouded in violence. Last year, farmers marching into the capital were met with water cannon and teargas, and were charged at by police with wooden batons. In another protest in February, farmers broke through police barricades and entered into the centre of Delhi, where many broke into the historic monument the Red Fort. One farmer died after his tractor overturned.

The farmers have shown no signs of backing down in their protests. A nationwide strike was organised by the farmers’ unions last week to mark the anniversary and various rallies have been planned in the buildup to the Uttar Pradesh state elections next year, which are highly significant for the BJP, which has a large voter base in the state.

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The Groucho

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