India World

“Saddened by the insult to the national flag,” Narendra Modi says in his monthly radio address

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said protesters that stormed New Delhi’s Red Fort had caused “insult” to the country.

Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of India’s capital for more than two months, protesting against new agricultural laws they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers.

A tractor parade on Tuesday’s Republic Day turned violent when some protesters deviated from pre-agreed routes, clashing with police and breaking into the historic Red Fort complex in the capital. One died and hundreds were injured.

“The country was saddened by the insult to the Tricolor (Indian flag) on the 26th of January in Delhi,” Modi said in a radio address on Sunday. “The government is committed to modernising agriculture and is also taking many steps in that direction.”

Farm leaders say they were not responsible for violence, that was caused by a minority of those on the parade

Agriculture employs about half of India’s labour force, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to Modi.

On Saturday, farmers taking part in the protests began a day-long hunger strike, as they sought to reaffirm the peaceful nature of their movement following recent violent clashes with police.

Farmer leaders said the hunger strike was timed to coincide with the death anniversary of Independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Authorities have also blocked mobile internet services at three protest sites, a favoured tactic of the Modi government to thwart protests. India’s Home Ministry said internet services would remain suspended until Sunday to “maintain public safety”.

Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said the government was “in delusion if it feels our movement will be weakened” by suspending the internet.

“The more they try to crush the voice of the farmers, the greater this movement will become,” Tikait tweeted.

Tractor Rally: Protesting farmers breach barricades, clash with police