Modi stepped back, repealing controversial farm laws after mass protests.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File photo

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took an unusual U-turn on Thursday when his government stepped back and repealed controversial form laws passed last year.

Modi was under pressure as thousands of farmers across the country set up camp outside the Indian capital, New Delhi, in protest against the law.

Rallies have become a powerhouse to oppose the Modi administration in a country where two-thirds of the 1.3 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

In a humble address to the nation on the occasion of a major Sikh festival – the religion of many farmers – Modi said the laws would be repealed in the winter session of Parliament starting later this month.

“I appeal to all the farmers who are part of the protest … to return to their homes, their loved ones, their fields and their families. Let’s start anew and move on,” said the 71-year-old.

“Friends, I apologize to our compatriots and say with a clear heart and conscience that we are failing in our efforts to explain to a section of the farmers (the benefits of farming laws).”

The reforms, adopted in September 2020, were aimed at deregulating agricultural production markets, where state agencies have guaranteed minimum crop prices for decades.

The Modi government had said that these changes would boost rural incomes and bring about reforms in a highly inefficient agricultural sector where large quantities of products rot before they can be sold.

Modi said on Friday, “The aim was to give more power to the country’s farmers, especially small farmers – who make up about 80 per cent of all farmers, and who have the smallest land holdings”. Modi said on Friday.

But protesters said the changes – which were suspended during talks with farmers – would allow big business to take over the farming industry.

‘great news’

The farmers first tried to march on New Delhi last November but were stopped from entering the capital by police in violent clashes.

Farmers camped at two locations outside the city, blocking major highways, and in later months they dug up as their numbers reached tens of thousands.

The protest turned into colorful semi-permanent camps where volunteers provide food, hygiene and even dental surgery and foot massage parlors.

The rallies turned violent in January when a tractor rally in Delhi turned into a commotion that embarrassed the government on Indian Republic Day.

One farmer was killed and hundreds of policemen were injured. مظاہرین پولیس کی رکاوٹوں کو توڑ کر مرکزی دہلی کے تاریخی لال قلعے پر جھنڈا اٹھانے میں کامیاب ہو گئے۔

In Uttar Pradesh last month, four farmers were killed when a convoy of a government minister and his son allegedly attacked a group of protesters.

Protesters then set fire to several cars and killed four others.

In recent months, the number of protest sites has dwindled, but a large number of protesters remained, and large demonstrations were expected to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of rallies later this month.

Modi’s transformation comes ahead of crucial elections in states like Punjab – where many farmers come from – and Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with a population of 220 million.

Rahul Gandhi of the Opposition Congress Party tweeted, “Congratulations on this victory against injustice. Greetings to India, greetings to the farmers of India”.

Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of Caravan Magazine, told AFP: “Farm laws have been submerged and it has always been a question of Modi’s ego that prevented the government from repealing them.”

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