Farmers hold demonstrations across India marking anniversary of laws, despite Modi’s about turn

Nov 26, 2021: Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that they would be repealed, tens of thousands of farmers across India are protesting on the eve of one year of their protest against three controversial farm laws.

In a seemingly surprising about turn ahead of major elections in key states, Modi said last Friday that the laws would be withdrawn when the Indian Parliament convenes later this month. Although the farmers’ unions welcomed the move, they decided not to end their protest until the laws were formally repealed.

The Modi government passed three controversial laws in September 2020, saying their aim was to “modernize” agriculture. The government claimed that the law would benefit farmers by increasing their income and giving them more power to sell their produce. But farmers’ unions said the rules would enable a few private corporations to control India’s vast agricultural sector and deny farmers to grow their produce at the minimum support price (MSP) assured by the government.

In November last year, millions of farmers – mostly from the grain belt states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – marched on New Delhi to demand repeal of farm laws. When they were prevented from entering the national capital, they encamped on three main highways leading to the city. Since then, they have not emptied the sites.

Farmers will demonstrate and hold tractor rallies and other events across the country on Friday, ignoring Modi’s call for them to return to their homes. “It is not a victory or a defeat for anyone yet. But this government is now moving towards dialogue,” Rakesh Tikait, leader of the Indian Farmers’ Union, said while talking to reporters from Al Jazeera network this week.

“The day this government comes to the table with a clear heart, we will find a solution.”

Rejecting Modi’s appeal to return to their homes, angry farmers have instead decided to stay where they are until the laws are formally repealed.

On Monday, thousands of farmers staged a public rally in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where elections are scheduled for early next year.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to retain power in the elections. Tikait, an influential farmer leader from western Uttar Pradesh, said that if the Modi government did not agree to their demands, they would campaign against the party in the next elections.

“If this government does not listen to us, we will work against it in the areas where it has gained political power. If this government has not complied with our demands then why don’t we campaign against it?”

In addition to the law on MSP, farmers also want the government to withdraw the draft electricity bill, which they fear will lead state governments to withdraw their right to free or subsidized electricity, which is primarily for irrigation. 

According to several farmers’ unions, they are demanding compensation for the families of about 700 farmers who lost their lives during the year-long protests. They also want the government to remove fines for burning stubble after their crops have been harvested. Smoke has become a major source of air pollution in New Delhi and the satellite towns adjoining the crop-growing northern states.

According to Gilles Verniers, columnist and political scientist at Ashoka University outside New Delhi, the timing of Modi’s announcement strongly indicated that the decision to repeal the farm laws “was guided by electoral considerations”.

Verniers also supplied an additional reason for the announcement, saying “Second, the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend the laws pending resolution of the dispute with farmers, combined with their determination to oppose these laws, made their implementation very unlikely.”

According to Verniers there was “deep distrust” among farmers against the Modi government. In his words, “The repeal of farm laws has been central to the demands of farmers, but not the only one. The problems of ailing agriculture are as prominent as ever and farmers still expect the state to intervene to help them.”

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