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Farmers’ Fury: Renewed Protests Challenge Modi’s Government

Two years after they ended their massive protest that almost brought the Modi Government to its knees, Indian farmers are back on the streets, demanding better prices for their produce. On Tuesday, thousands of farmers on tractors and trucks marched to the country’s capital, New Delhi, to press the government to address their demands. At the same time, authorities turned Delhi into a guarded fortress by barricading it.

This latest protest comes at a crucial point just months before the Lok Sabha elections, where Prime Minister Modi expects to win a third term in office. The central government is looking to prevent a repeat of the year-long protest that the farmers staged in 2020-21, which forced them to repeal the Farm Laws they had put in place to deregulate vast agricultural markets. The 2020 Farmers Protests had become one of the biggest challenges ever faced by the Modi Government.

The recent protest saw the Haryana police, a state that borders Delhi, fire tear gas at the farmers to prevent them from reaching the capital. Several entry points had been sealed using barbed wires, concrete blocks, and spikes. Drones were employed to release tear gas, and in response, the farmers used kites to bring the drones down, resulting in a major confrontation. Internet connections were suspended across the State, and large gatherings were banned. 


What were the 2020 protests about?

In 2020, farmers protested against the three laws proposed by the government that would loosen the rules around the sale, pricing, and storage of farm produce which had so far protected them from free markets. Farm union leaders believed that these farm laws would make them more vulnerable to big companies and could also result in the loss of livelihood.

The central government stood its ground for months, claiming that the laws were not harmful to the farmers. However, eventually, it had to take a step back and repeal all three laws in November 2021. The parliament officially passed a bill to cancel the reforms. This was a resounding victory for the farmers who had endured a lot during the year-long protest, both physically and psychologically, but never gave up. 

Farmers continued protesting until they received a formal letter from the government regarding the repeal of the laws and an agreement on some other demands, such as compensation for the 750 farmers who lost their lives during the protests and a minimum support price (MSP) for all their produce. The government promised to form a committee on MSP, which would include representatives from federal and state governments, agricultural scientists, and farmer groups.  


Why are the farmers protesting now?

The farmers are protesting now because they feel that the government has failed to keep the promises made during the previous protest. They want a legal framework to ensure that the minimum support price (MSP) is at least 50% higher than the cost of production for any crop, a waiver of farm loans, and a doubling of their incomes. The increase in the cost of cultivation over the past few years, coupled with income stagnation, has made farming a loss-making enterprise.

Farmers are also demanding that legal action be taken against those who sell fake seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers. Additionally, they want the government to increase the number of workdays to 200 under the rural employment guarantee scheme. Another demand they have made is for the government to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and cease all free trade agreements.

Vijoo Krishnan, the general secretary of the All India Kisaan Sabha, has stated, “The three acts have been withdrawn, but BJP-ruled states are trying to bring them through the backdoor. Even the recent budget has sought to privatize post-harvest activities.” The Modi government has formed a committee to address these issues, but progress has been minimal. Additionally, this committee lacks representatives from the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, which are all major agricultural units in the country. 


What has the Modi Government done so far?

The government has sent a delegation to hold talks with the farmers regarding their demands, but it has not yielded any positive results so far. Two rounds of “talks” have been conducted with the farmers by now, but the farmers claim them to be just “delaying tactics” and are refusing to call off the protest.

There is immense pressure on the Modi administration now, given that Lok Sabha elections are just a few months away. This mass protest is expected to have a major impact on the elections if not dealt with and resolved soon. Farmers comprise two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion population and account for nearly a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product, making them a very significant and influential vote bloc. With support pouring in from the opposition parties for the farmers, the Modi government is definitely in a very tight spot.

The government has tried to pacify the protestors and shed the tag of being “anti-farmer” using a few tactics. They have fixed this year’s Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat at 2,275 INR per 100 kg, representing a 7% increase from last year. Additionally, they have awarded the highest civilian honour of the country to former Prime Minister and agricultural leader Chaudhary Charan Singh and MS Swaminathan, a pioneer in agriculture in the 1960s, in an attempt to win over the farmers. 

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