Modi relents a year after protests by farmers against controversial farm laws

New Delhi, Nov 19 (EFE).- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday said the government would revoke three controversial farm laws in a significant climbdown before key state elections and a year after relentless protests by farmers across the country.

The parliament approved the three agricultural reforms ostensibly meant to modernize the troubled-agricultural sector last year, sparking nationwide protests with farmers alleging that the measure would leave them at the mercy of the free market without protection guarantees from the government.

Farmers across the country, mostly Sikhs in the northern state of Punjab, held sustained demonstrations that began in November last year, ultimately forcing the government to relent.

“Today, I have come to tell you and the entire nation that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws,” Modi said in his 3-minute televised address to the nation.

“We will begin the constitutional process to repeal the three farm laws at the end of this month when the parliament meets for the winter session,” the prime minister said in the surprise announcement.

Modi defended the laws that would have reformed the agricultural sector for small and marginal farmers.

He said some farmers were convinced, but others were not over the laws meant to bring private investment into the agricultural sector in the mainly agrarian country.

“We could not convince a section of farmers. Maybe something was lacking in our efforts,” Modi said, announcing the decision on the Guru Purab festival when Sikhism founder Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces key regional elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab early next year.

Many experts said the Modi-led BJP government’s unusual retreat was forced by the elections in the agricultural states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

The farmers’ anger in Uttar Pradesh would have hurt the BJP’s electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, where the ruling party desperately wants to retain power.

Protesting farmers had threatened to intensify demonstrations if the government did not revoke the three laws by Nov.27, a day after the first anniversary of the protests.

Tensions between the government and the peasants intensified last month after eight people were killed in clashes between members of the ruling BJP and protesters in Uttar Pradesh.

The deceased include four farmers, who were allegedly run over by a convoy of the son of India’s deputy home minister during a protest.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi from the Indian National Congress celebrated the government’s retreat on Twitter, saying “the nation’s food producer defeated the arrogance” of power.

One of the main leaders of the demonstrations and its most visible face, Rakesh Tikait of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) refused to call off the protest until the parliament rolled back the laws in the winter session that begins on Nov.29.

“We won’t call off the protests immediately. We will wait for the day when the parliament repeals the agricultural laws. The government needs to talk about minimum support price and other issues of farmers,” Tikait tweeted. EFE


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