Indian farmers celebrate a year of protest a week after Modi’s escalation | Agriculture News
New Delhi, India Tens of thousands of farmers are holding demonstrations across India to mark the one-year anniversary of their protest against three controversial agricultural laws, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that they will be repealed.
In a stunning twist ahead of crucial elections in key states, Modi said last Friday that the laws would be repealed when India’s parliament meets later this month. Although the farmers’ unions welcomed the move, they decided not to end their protest until the laws were formally withdrawn.
The Modi government passed the three controversial laws in September 2020, saying they are aimed at “modernizing” agriculture. The government claimed that the legislation would benefit farmers by increasing their income and giving them more choices when selling their produce.
But farmers’ unions said the laws would enable a few private companies to control India’s vast farming sector and deprive farmers of a government-guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for their products.
In November last year, hundreds of thousands of farmers – mostly from the grain belt states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – marched towards New Delhi to demand the abolition of farming laws. When they were denied entry to the national capital, they camped on three major highways that lead into town. Since then, they have not vacated the sites.
Farmers will demonstrate and hold tractor rallies and other events across the vast country on Friday, ignoring Modi’s plea for them to go home.
“Currently, no one is losing or winning. Bharatiya Kisan (Indian Farmers’ Union) leader Rakesh Teket told Al Jazeera earlier this week, but this government has now moved towards negotiations.
“The day this government comes to the negotiating table with a clean heart, that day we will find a solution.”
We don’t trust this guy.
Earlier this week, Al Jazeera visited a small group of farmers at a major protest site in Gazipur, on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, to read and discuss news from Hindi-language newspapers.
The angry farmers refused Modi’s plea to go home, and decided to stay put until the laws were formally repealed in Parliament.
“We don’t trust this man,” said Abdesh Kumar Jha, 87, a farmer from Madhubani district in Bihar, who traveled to Gazipur in February to join the protest.
Modi is no king and his words cannot automatically turn into law. We are a democracy, not a monarchy. “The way these laws have been passed in Parliament, we want them to be repealed in the same way in Parliament,” Jha said as others nodded in agreement.
On Monday, thousands of farmers staged a massive rally in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where elections are scheduled for early next year. In opinion polls, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to retain power.
Teket, an influential peasant leader from western Uttar Pradesh, said that if the Modi government did not agree to their demands, they would launch a campaign against the party in the upcoming elections.
If this government does not listen to us, we will act against it in those areas where it has the political power. Why don’t we campaign against this government if it doesn’t accept our demands? “
Aside from a law about MSP, farmers also want the government to withdraw an electricity bill that they fear will lead to state governments taking away their right to free or subsidized power, which is mainly used for irrigation.
They are also demanding compensation for the families of the nearly 700 farmers who lost their lives during the year-long protest, according to several farmers’ unions.
They also want the government to drop fines and other penalties for burning straw after harvesting their crops. Smoke has become a major source of air pollution in New Delhi and towns bordering northern states that grow crops.
“They have to give us a guaranteed MSP on our crops. Who will compensate the families of the more than 700 farmers we lost during the protest. Who will take care of their families? These are the issues that must be addressed first,” Jha told Al Jazeera.
“We are not going anywhere unless our problems are resolved.”
Kishan Singh, 74, from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, agreed with Jha, saying: “Unless this government and the prime minister will not accept all our demands, we will not go back to our homes.”
Singh said Modi has decided to repeal the laws due to the upcoming state elections.
“that they [BJP] want to vote. They do not like the country’s farmers or its people. “They need votes and that is why they decided to undo these laws,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he voted for the party in the last elections but now regrets his decision.
“They betrayed us. Modi had promised that he would double farmers’ income and talked about increasing the MSP to crops when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. What happened to those promises?” asked Singh.
Al Jazeera reached out to a BJP spokesperson, but he declined to comment on the issue.
Jill Verners, a columnist and political scientist at Ashoka University outside New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that the timing of Modi’s announcement strongly suggested that the decision to repeal the farm laws was “guided by electoral considerations”.
But the unusual nature of this decision suggests that it may have been taken for other reasons. For example, the farmers’ protest became a symbol of the decline of democracy in India, and contributed significantly to the deterioration of the prime minister’s image abroad.
“Second, the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend pending laws to resolve disputes with farmers, along with their determination to oppose these laws, made their implementation highly unlikely.”
Verners said there is a “deep mistrust” among farmers against the Modi government.
“The repeal of farm laws was central to the farmers’ demands but not their only aspect. The issues plaguing agriculture remain as prominent as ever and farmers still expect the state to step in to support them.”