NEW DELHI: On the International Day of Non-Violence, Gandhi’s birth anniversary, India’s farmers were stopped at the Delhi–Uttar Pradesh border with a lathi charge, water cannons and tear gas shells by the capital’s police. At least 50,000 farmers from western Uttar Pradesh were travelling to the national capital to demand loan waivers and the reduction of diesel prices in a list of seven key demands, when they came up against barricades and a large police force at the Delhi-UP border intended to prevent them from entering the national capital.

The farmers, mobilised by the Bharatiya Kisan Union which has been dormant since 2011 when kisan leader Mahendra Singh Tikait died, clashed with the police that then resorted to violence to stop them from entering Delhi. A delegation subsequently met the Union Home and Agriculture Ministers, but on the ground the farmers were categorical that all negotiations will have to be on the street, and not behind closed doors. “The Ministers will have to come here and accept our demands publicly,” the vocal and angry farmers said, making it clear that they were fed up with the silence and indifference of the Yogi Adityanath government.

The police action has not gone down well with the farmers, who see in it yet another attempt by the government to stall them and dismiss their demands. Television news channels at the time of writing maintained that some of the demands had been accepted, but there was no confirmation of this on the ground. Loan waivers and diesel prices are two key demands that the farmers are not prepared to back down from.

Opposition leaders have come out in support of the farmers. The Congress declared its intention to join the farmers' agitation tomorrow. Party president Rahul Gandhi criticised the government for resorting to violence on a day of non-violence. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wondered why the government decided to prevent the farmers from entering the city. Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav has expressed similar sentiments, condemning the BJP for using force to restrain the farmers.

Even BJP ally Janata Dal (United) protested, with the party's national general secretary K.C. Tyagi maintaining that, "Peaceful and unarmed farmers going towards Rajghat were brutally treated, they were lathicharged and teargas shells were fired on them. We condemn this."

Farmer leader and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana founder Raju Shetti said, "Farmers aren't terrorists or Naxals, they're coming (to Delhi) with demands. Don't they have the right to do that? The Shivraj Singh Chouhan led government killed farmers in Mandsaur, and now they're about to lose Madhya Pradesh. I am warning PM Modi, if injustice with farmers continues, he will lose Delhi."

Support for the farmers is pouring in from different organisations and political parties across the country.

The entire Tikait family is reported to have joined the demonstration, essentially one of Jat farmers in western UP. These constituted a strong voter base for the BJP in the Lok Sabha and even Assembly elections, with the support now visibly on the wane. The Jat farmers are furious, and unwilling to compromise on longstanding demands that CM Adityanath has been unable to address. On the ground, they were not willing to concede space, with the police attack angering the farmers who have in the past laid siege to Delhi as well.

This is the first such action in several years, but the farmers made it clear that they were not going to return to their villages until their demands had been met and remedial measures agreed upon. Hundreds of tractors have converged at the spot with more farmers enroute. The border represents a war zone, as photographs from the site demonstrate.