Thousands of Indian farmers battled police across New Delhi on January 26 as they took protests against agriculture reform into the capital during a giant Republic Day military parade.
Police laid on one of their biggest security operations in years in a bid to keep protesters away from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he oversaw a parade full of pomp.
Police manned barricades at intersections around the centre of the city, while soldiers with machine guns patrolled metro trains.
But after barging through barricades on the city’s main arteries, convoys of farmers on tractors sped wildly around city roads, forcing police and bystanders to leap for safety.
At the 400-year-old Red Fort, protesters raised the emblem of their movement on flagpole where India’s tricolour normally flies.
Hundreds also gathered outside the Delhi police headquarters and fought with officers.
Across the city, security forces fired tear gas and staged baton charges, but the protesters laid into police with their own weapons – and hijacked buses that had been used to block their convoys.
Two months of protests against agricultural laws that deregulated produce markets have turned into the biggest challenge faced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government since it came to power six years ago.
The government had opposed the rally saying it would be a “national embarrassment” at a time when it should be celebrating Republic Day.
Police, however, said they would allow the demonstration if farmers waited until after the military parade, and kept to a route away from central Delhi.
But barricades were breached while Modi and other ministers were watching tanks and troops pass along the Rajpath boulevard as newly acquired Rafale fighter jets flew overhead.
Some protesters reached a major intersection just 3km from the parade.
Modi was driven back to his residence barely 30 minutes before the farmers took over the city centre.
Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of the capital since November, protesting against the new laws which the government says will boost rural incomes.
Union leaders say they will allow private Indian conglomerates to take over the agriculture industry – the rockbed of the economy – and end guaranteed prices for most of their produce.
Farmers’ leaders say they have enough supplies to keep their protest camps going for at least a year.
The leaders blamed the authorities for the violence saying police had provoked the farmers.
Union leader Kawalpreet Singh Pannu said: “When you attack a peaceful protest, then difficulties for the government will surely increase.”