Tractor rally aims to overshadow India's show of military might
Thousands of farmers on tractors gathered outside New Delhi on Monday, gearing up to rival an annual parade of tanks and troops on India's Republic Day in a protest against the government's agricultural reforms.
Since November, protesters have camped at the entry points to New Delhi, opposing farming laws which they say will invite conglomerates to dominate the agricultural sector.
Thousands of tractors, decorated with giant India tricolour flags, have already assembled at three main sites at the entrances of the capital.
Another 10,000 farmers have also gathered in the western city of Mumbai to show solidarity.
The government has positioned security forces throughout the capital to keep the farmers away from what is traditionally a prestigious day on the Indian political calendar.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to attend Tuesday but withdrew because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"For the first time ever, farmers will take part in their own Republic Day parade," said political activist Yogendra Yadav, whose Swaraj India party has supported the protests.
"Barricades will be opened and farmers will be allowed to enter Delhi and hold their march," he said.
The government had opposed the farmers' rally, saying it would be an "embarrassment for the nation" on such an important day.
Police said they would allow 12,000 tractors into the city after the government parade.
But farmers told local media late Monday some 200,000 tractors would take part in their rally, and that it would last for up to 12 hours.
A farmer union leader also told local media that protesters were planning a march on foot towards the national parliament in Delhi on February 1, the same day the government releases its annual budget.
The new regulations will enable farmers to sell produce on the open market instead of only through state-run bodies that guarantee a minimum price.
But farmers have demanded the government repeal the laws that would leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
The government has offered to freeze implementation of the reforms for 18 months, but several rounds of talks between unions and ministers have failed to end the deadlock.