Tensions have flared in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after eight people, including four farmers, were killed Sunday while demonstrating against controversial farm laws.
The incident marks an escalation in India’s long-running farm protests that have festered for almost a year amid an impasse between the government and farm leaders.
The protestors alleged that two farmers were killed when a motorcade linked to India’s deputy home minister, Ajay Kumr Mishra, ran over them on Sunday in Lakhimpur Kheri district. They said the minister’s son was driving the car that plowed into the protestors.
The minister has denied the charge and said that farmers pelted stones at the vehicle, which resulted in the driver losing control and ramming into the protesters.
The police said they are investigating whether the minister’s son, Ashish Mishra, was in the car that struck the protesters.
In clashes that erupted, three members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a driver, who were in the car were killed, according to officials. Videos on social media showed a car on fire.
Uttar Pradesh is one of three northern states whose farmers are spearheading protests to demand the repeal of three laws that open sale of farm produce to private companies. The government says these market-friendly reforms will modernize the agriculture sector but farmers fear that corporations will depress crop prices and ultimately force them to sell their land.
Political analysts say the latest violence underlines the need for the government to reengage with the farmers.
“It is a wake-up call to the government to take a new initiative to resolve the farmers’ issues,” political analyst Neerja Chowdhury told VOA. Chowdhury further pointed out that the government has made no effort to negotiate with the farmers since talks broke down earlier this year. “You cannot push it away and let it drift. After all, people don’t just sit on the streets in such large numbers like that.”
While most of the farmers have been squatting on highways leading to New Delhi, protests have gained momentum in Uttar Pradesh ahead of elections due to be held in the state in February.
The latest incident will deepen anger among farmers say analysts and pose another challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party as it prepares for polls in the key battleground state, where victory for his party is considered crucial.
Opposition leaders said they were stopped from visiting the scene of the protest. Priyanka Gandhi, Congress Party leader was detained while on her way to visit the families of farmers who were killed.
“The prime minister says ours is a vibrant democracy. But stopping opposition leaders from going to Lakhimpur doesn’t really strengthen our democracy,” Akhilesh Yadav, the head of the main opposition Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, told reporters, “Farmers, who are the backbone of our economy, cannot be treated like this.”
Violence had also marred the farmers protest when a group broke through barricades during a rally in January to storm the historic Red Fort in the Indian capital.