New Delhi, India Thousands of farmers are demonstrating across India a year of their protest Against three controversial agriculture laws, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that they would be repealed.
one in amazing u-turn Ahead of crucial elections in key states, Modi said last Friday that the laws would be withdrawn when India’s Parliament meets later this month. Although the farmers’ unions welcomed the move, they decided not to end their protest until the law was formally withdrawn.
Modi government had passed three controversial laws in september 2020, adding that his aim was to “modernize” agriculture. The government claimed that this law would increase the income of farmers and give them more options while selling their produce.
But farmers’ unions said the laws would enable some private corporations to control India’s vast agricultural sector and deprive growers of the government-assured Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce.
In November last year, hundreds of thousands of farmers – mostly from the grain belt states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – marched to New Delhi to demand repeal of agricultural laws. When they were prevented from entering the national capital, they camped on the three major highways leading to the city. Since then, they haven’t vacated the sites.
Farmers, ignoring Modi’s appeal to return to their homes, will hold tractor rallies and other programs across the country on Friday.
“Right now it is not anybody’s defeat or victory. But this government has now moved towards talks,” Rakesh Tikait, leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (Indian Farmers Union), told Al Jazeera earlier this week.
“The day this government comes to the table with a clean heart, we will find a solution.”
‘We don’t trust this man’
Earlier this week, Al Jazeera visited a small group of farmers at one of the main protest sites in Ghazipur on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi, reading news from Hindi-language newspapers and discussing.
Rejecting Modi’s appeal to return to their homes, the agitating farmers have decided to stay on till the laws are formally repealed in Parliament.
“We don’t trust this man,” said Abdesh Kumar Jha, an 87-year-old farmer from Bihar’s Madhubani district.
“Modi is not a king and his words cannot become law by themselves. We are a democracy, not a monarchy. The way these laws were passed in Parliament, we want them to be abolished in Parliament the same way,” Jha said, as others nodded in agreement.
Thousands of farmers held a mass rally on Monday in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due early next year. In the elections, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to retain power.
Tikait, an influential farmer leader from western Uttar Pradesh, said he would campaign against the party in the upcoming elections if Modi’s government did not accede to their demands.
“If this government does not listen to us, we will work against it in those areas from where it has got political power,” he said. If this government does not accept our demands, why don’t we campaign against it?
Apart from a law on MSP, farmers also want the government to withdraw a draft electricity bill, which they fear will take back the entitlement of state governments to free or subsidized electricity used mainly for irrigation.
According to several farmers’ unions, they are also demanding compensation for the families of around 700 farmers who lost their lives during the year-long protests.
They also want the government to remove fines and other fines for burning stubble after harvesting their crops. Smoke has become a major source of air pollution in New Delhi and satellite cities bordering the crop-growing northern states.
“They have to give us a guaranteed MSP on our crops. Who will give compensation to the families of more than 700 farmers who we lost during the protest. Who will take care of their families? These are issues that need to be addressed first,” Jha told Al Jazeera.
We will not go anywhere until our issues are resolved.
Kishan Singh, 74, from Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, concurred with Jha, saying: “We will not return to our homes until this government and the prime minister accept all our demands.”
Singh said Modi has decided to repeal the laws due to the upcoming state elections.
“They [BJP] want votes. They do not love the farmers of the country or its people. They want votes and that is why they have decided to withdraw these laws,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he had voted for the party in the last two elections but now regrets his decision.
“They have betrayed us. Modi had promised that he would double the income of farmers and when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat had talked about increasing the MSP of crops. What happened to your promise that Kas?” Singh asked.
Al Jazeera reached out to a BJP spokesperson, but he declined to comment on the issue.
Gilles Verniers, a columnist and political scientist at Ashoka University outside New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that the timing of Modi’s announcement strongly indicated that the decision to repeal agricultural laws was “guided by electoral considerations”.
“But the unusual character of this decision suggests that it may have been taken for other reasons. On the one hand, the farmers’ protest has become a symbol of India’s democratic decline and contributed significantly to the tarnishing of the prime minister’s image abroad.
“Second, the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend pending laws for resolution of disputes with farmers, coupled with their determination to oppose these laws, has little chance of their implementation.”
Verniers said there is “deep distrust” among farmers against the Modi government.
“Repealing agricultural laws was at the heart of the farmers’ demands but was not their only aspect. Issues of ailing agriculture are as prominent as ever and farmers still expect the state to intervene to support them.”