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Police fire teargas as Indian farmers resume protest march to New Delhi after talks fail

SHAMBHU, India — Police fired tear gas on Wednesday at thousands of Indian farmers who resumed their protest march to New Delhi after talks with the government failed to end an impasse over their demands for guaranteed crop prices.

The protests come at a crucial time for India, where national elections are due in the coming months and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is widely expected to secure a third successive term in office.

The farmers began their protest last week but were stopped some 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital. Authorities are set on containing the protest, which has renewed the movement from over two years ago when tens of thousands of farmers had camped out on the outskirts of the city for over a year.

At the time, the farmers pitched tents, bought food supplies and held out in the sit-in until they forced Modi to repeal new agriculture laws in a major reversal for his government.

This time around, the authorities have barricaded the highways into New Delhi with cement blocks, metal containers, barbed wire and iron spikes to prevent the farmer from entering.

On Wednesday, the farmers arrived at the barricades with bulldozers and excavators to try and push through.

Jagjit Singh Dallewal, one of the farmers leading the march, said they did not want any violence, but condemned the federal government over the massive security measures.

“It is our request that we want to go to Delhi in a peaceful manner. The government should remove the barricades,” he said.

Last week, the farmers had paused their protest and hunkered down near the town of Shambhu, close to the border between Punjab and Haryana states, as farmers unions engaged in discussions with government ministers.

They rejected a proposal from the government that offered them five-year contracts of guaranteed prices on a set of certain crops, including maize, grain legumes and cotton, and the farmers resumed their march on Wednesday.

The protest organizers say the farmers are seeking a new legislation that would guarantee minimum prices for 23 crops.

The government protects agricultural producers against sharp falls in farm prices by setting a minimum purchase price for certain essential crops, a system that was introduced in the 1960s to help shore up food reserves and prevent shortages. The system can apply up to 23 crops, but the government usually offers the minimum price only for rice and wheat.

The farmers say guaranteed minimum support price for all 23 crops would stabilize their income. They are also pressing the government to follow through on promises to waive loans and withdraw legal cases brought against them during the earlier 2021 protests.

Several talks so far have failed to break the deadlock. But Arjun Munda, one of the ministers negotiating with the farmers, said they were willing to hold another discussion and that the government wanted to maintain peace.

“It is the prime minister’s responsibility, who has been elected with majority votes, to handle the situation and accept our demands,” Sarwan Singh Pandher, a farm leader, told the Press Trust of India news agency.

The farmers are an influential voting bloc and particularly important to Modi’s base — especially in Northern Haryana and several other states with a substantial farming population that are ruled by his Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Pathi reported from New Delhi.

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