India to repeal controversial farm laws that led to protests

NEW DELHI – In a surprise announcement on Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government would withdraw the controversial agricultural laws that sparked years of protests from tens of thousands of farmers and a significant political challenge to his government.

Modi made the announcement during a televised address that was broadcast live. Urging protesters to return home, he said the constitutional process to repeal the laws would begin in December when parliament convenes for the winter session.

“Let’s start over,” said Modi during the address.

Download the. down NBC news app for breaking news and politics

The announcement came on the day of the Guru Purab Festival, which celebrates the birthday of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, and before important elections in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Most of the demonstrators are Sikh farmers from Punjab.

The laws were passed last September and the government defended them, saying they were necessary to modernize India’s agricultural sector and increase production through private investment. But farmers protested, saying the laws would destroy their revenues by removing guaranteed prices and forcing them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.

This alleged threat to their income made Indian farmers, who mostly work as smallholders, afraid: More than two thirds of them own less than 1 hectare of land.

Clauses in the legislation also prevented farmers from resolving contract disputes in court, leaving them with no independent remedies other than government-appointed bureaucrats.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the peasant union group organizing the protests, said it welcomed the government’s announcement. But the group said the protests would continue until the government promised them guaranteed prices for certain vital plants – a system introduced in the 1960s to help India sustain its food reserves and avoid shortages.

The government had so far given very little in to the protracted demonstrations that led to unprecedented peasant protests across India and a major challenge for Modi, who won the elections for the second time in 2019.

Modi’s decision will be seen as a political feat ahead of some major government polls, particularly in Punjab, where the Sikh community’s growing alienation over the law has been felt.

Initially, Modi’s government tried to discredit the Sikh farmers by dismissing their concerns as being religiously nationalist. Some leaders in Modi’s party called them “Khalistanis”, a reference to a movement for an independent Sikh homeland called “Khalistan” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Such accusations backfired and further angered the farmers.

Last November, farmers escalated their movement by settling on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they camped for almost a year, including during a harsh winter and surge in coronavirus that devastated India earlier this year.

While the peasant protest movement was largely peaceful, demonstrators broke through police barricades in January to storm the historic Red Fort in the center of the capital. One protester died and hundreds were injured in clashes with police.

“All of our hard work has finally paid off. Thanks to all peasant brothers and greetings to the peasant brothers who were martyred in this battle, ”said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent peasant leader.

Dozens of farmers died during the demonstrations from suicide, hostile weather conditions and Covid-19.

Opposition leaders, who had previously labeled the laws exploitative and supported the protests, congratulated the farmers.

“The resistance of the country’s peasants made arrogance bow their heads,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, India’s main opposition party in Congress. “Congratulations on beating injustice!”

Farmers form the most influential electoral bloc in India – and are often romanticized as the heart and soul of the nation.

Politicians have long considered it unwise to alienate them, and farmers are especially important to Modi’s base. Northern Haryana and several other states with sizeable peasant populations are ruled by his party.

Leave a Comment