Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced he will repeal three contentious farm laws that prompted a year of protests and unrest in India.
Modi’s BJP controlled parliament had passed the three farm laws in 2020 in an attempt to overhaul India’s archaic agriculture sector by rolling back farm subsidies and price regulation on crops.
Farmers say the laws will allow the entry of private players in farming that will hurt their income and in protest had camped at Delhi’s borders since last November, which resulted in the death of dozens from heat, cold and Covid.
Friday’s surprise announcement marks a major U-turn as the government had not taken any initiative to talk to farmers in recent months and Mr. Modi’s ministers have been steadfastly insisting that the laws were good for farmers and there was no question of taking them back.
Farm unions are seeing this as a huge victory. But experts say the upcoming state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh – both have a huge base of farmers – may have forced the decision.
The announcement on Friday morning came on a day Sikhs – the dominant community in Punjab – are celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
In his nationally-televised address, Mr. Modi said the farm laws were meant to strengthen the small farmers. “But despite several attempts to explain the benefits to the farmers, we have failed. On the occasion of Guru Purab, the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws,” he added.
The laws allowed private buyers to hoard food like rice, wheat and pulses for future sales, which only government-authorised agents could do earlier.
The reforms, at least on paper, gave farmers the option of selling outside of this so-called “mandi system”. But the protesters said the laws would weaken the farmers and allow private players to dictate prices and control their fate. They said the MSP was keeping many farmers going and without it, many of them will struggle to survive.
They said India’s stringent laws around the sale of agricultural produce and high subsidies had protected farmers from market forces for decades and there was no need to change that.
But the government argued that it was time to make farming profitable for even small farmers and the new laws were going to achieve that.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are celebrating the news, raising flags of victory and distributing sweets. But they say the fight is not over.
“We have no faith in a verbal promise. Unless we see it in writing that the laws have actually been repealed, we will stay here,” Raj Singh Chaudhary, a 99-year-old protester, told the BBC’s Salman Ravi.
Mr. Chaudhary is among hundreds of farmers who have been striking at the Delhi-Ghazipur border for a year.
His view was echoed by Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmer leader who said they would call off the protest only after the laws were repealed in the winter session of parliament.
Another farmer leader said they needed additional promises from the government around assured prices for their crops to end their protest.
The announcement has stunned political observers as well as those who both support and oppose the laws – many tweeted saying it was a huge victory for the farmers and a “major climbdown” for Mr. Modi. (Source: BBC)