Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced new farming laws in September, causing widespread disagreement and leading to violent protests in the country’s capital. These new laws have led to two months of largely calm demonstrations involving farmers from India’s agriculturally-based northern states, according to the Associated Press. A protest in late January, meant to peacefully persuade the government to repeal its new policies, turned violent, killing at least one civilian and wounding dozens of overwhelmed police officers.
Recent protests did not follow agreed-upon time and route guidelines, claims the Wall Street Journal. Police used batons on protestors, overturned tractors, and the government shut down the internet in the Delhi region. Protestors remain camped outside New Delhi and promise future protests in the city, says The New York Times.
Punjab and Haryana are the two largest agriculturally-based regions – and most dependent on government assistance programs – in the country. Farmers in these regions are opposing Parliament-passed laws that some say will benefit corporate farms and cause smaller, privately owned farms to lose already-declining revenue. Most small farms in India own less than one hectare of land, and some farmers make less than $300 USD each year, says the Associated Press. Modi claims these new farming laws will raise farmers’ incomes, reduce crop prices for customers, and encourage investment in the agricultural industry, says the Wall Street Journal. The government insists these reforms will offer greater versatility in who farmers can sell their crops to, something that critics claim will mean an unwanted increase in competition.
This issue is intensified by ethnic and religious tensions around the country as well. Most of the farmers in these two regions are a part of the Sikh religion, a minority group in the country. When protests first erupted, Modi attempted to cite the reason behind these protests as religious based, which further angered farmers and encouraged others to join the movement. While current motivations for these protests are mostly economic based, a greater emphasis on this religious component could exacerbate the situation.
Protesting farmers want a complete repeal of the new laws. They are demanding legislation that ensures set prices for certain crops to prevent shortages – a system introduced in the 1960s, claims the Associated Press. Also, farmers want assurance they will be offered fair crop prices from corporations as the country’s agricultural sector moves from farmers only selling to government-run markets.
The government is trying to quell protestors by offering to amend certain sections of the reforms and to hold off on implementation of these new laws for 18 months. India’s Supreme Court recently postponed the implementation of these reforms, but protestors remain unfazed as they demand a complete repeal, claims The New York Times. Some agriculture scholars believe farming reforms are necessary, but they say Modi’s approach is not the correct way to resolve these issues, claims the Associated Press. However, Mihir Sharma, with Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank, believes Modi should continue with this new legislation despite protests.
Aggravating Indian farmers offers challenges to the future of the government as farmers are a significant voting group in the country, and leaders understand the need to refrain from angering them. In fact, Modi’s political party, Bharatiya Janata, relies heavily on farmers’ support. These recent protests are the largest the country has seen under Modi’s leadership, and these current tensions have already caused Modi to lose some followers.
The new laws come at a time when the economy is struggling, social tensions are high, other new laws are causing controversy, and COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc in the country. Right now, this situation should be remedied by Modi’s government and does not require an international response. However, if the Indian government is unable to appease protestors and tensions intensify, intervention from outside actors may be necessary. Modi needs to compromise with farmers on new farming laws, offer an extension of Parliamentary discussion on these reforms, and ensure all parties involved understand the importance and benefits of new farming legislation when such reforms are passed.
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