Tens of thousands of Indian farmers pose serious challenge to Modi government

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Tens of thousands of Indian farmers pose serious challenge to Modi government

NEW DELHI — Tens of thousands of farmers who stormed the historic Red Fort on India's Republic Day were again camped outside the capital Wednesday after the most volatile day of their two-month standoff left one protester dead and more than 80 police officers injured.

The protests demanding the repeal of new agricultural laws have grown into a rebellion that is rattling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. On Tuesday, more than 10,000 tractors and thousands of more people on foot or horseback tried to advance into the capital, shoving aside barricades and buses blocking their path and at times met by police using tear gas and water cannons.

Their brief takeover of the 17th-century fort, which was the palace of Mughal emperors, played out live Indian news channels. The farmers, some carrying ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelmed police. In a profoundly symbolic challenge to Modi's Hindu-nationalist government, the protesters who stormed Red Fort hoisted a Sikh religious flag.

"The situation is normal now. The protesters have left the streets of the capital,″ New Delhi police officer Anto Alphonse said Wednesday morning.

Most New Delhi roads were reopened to vehicles by midnight Tuesday, hours after the protest organizer, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, called off the tractor march and accused two outside groups of sabotage by infiltrating their otherwise peaceful movement.

“Even if it was a sabotage, we can’t escape responsibility,” said Yogendra Yadav, a protest leader.

He didn’t say whether the protesters will go ahead with another march planned for Feb. 1 when the Modi government is scheduled to present the annual budget in Parliament.

Yadav said frustration had built up among the protesting farmers and “how do you control it if the government is not serious about what they have been demanding for two months.”