India’s winter of discontent: Farmers rise up against Modi

NEW DELHI (AP) – A chilly breeze whirls through New Delhi in the mornings and the sun is partly obscured by toxic haze, a marker of another winter in the Indian capital. But along the city’s borders, this year is visibly and viscerally different.

The perpetually busy arterial highways that connect most northern Indian towns to this city of 29 million people now pulse to the cries of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ – “Long live the revolution.”

Tens and thousands of farmers with distinctive, colorful turbans and long, flowing beards have descended upon the city’s borders, choking highways in giant demonstrations against new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation.

For more than a week, they’ve marched toward the capital on their tractors and trucks like an army, pushing aside concrete police barricades while braving tear gas, batons and water cannons. Now, on the outskirts of New Delhi, they are hunkered down with food and fuel supplies that can last weeks and threatening to besiege the capital if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government doesn’t meet their demands to abolish the laws.

“Modi wants to sell our lands to corporates,” said one of them, Kaljeet Singh, who travelled from Ludhiana city in Punjab, north of New Delhi. “He can’t decide for millions of those who for generations have given their blood and sweat to the land they regard as more precious than their lives.”

At night, the farmers sleep in trailers and under trucks, curling themselves in blankets to brave the winter chill. During the day, they sit huddled in groups in their vehicles, surrounded by mounds of rice, lentils and vegetables that are prepared into meals at hundreds of makeshift soup kitchens, in enormous pots stirred with wooden spoons the size of canoe paddles.

Anmol Singh, 33, who supports his family of six by farming, said the new laws were part of a larger plan to hand over the farmers’ land to big corporations and make them landless.

“Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends,” he said.

Protesting farmers prepare flat bread for fellow farmers as they block a major highway during a protest in India. PHOTO: AP