Why are tens of thousands of Indian farmers marching towards New Delhi?

Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have marched towards the capital to demand guaranteed prices for crops, renewing a movement begun two years ago that succeeded in convincing the government to repeal controversial new agricultural laws.

On Tuesday, police used tear gas, arrested a number of farmers, and tightly surrounded border points to prevent demonstrators from entering New Delhi.

Authorities are determined to control new demonstrations to avoid a repeat of the 2021 protests, in which tens of thousands of farmers camped outside the capital for more than a year, enduring a harsh winter and a devastating coronavirus surge.

Why are farmers demonstrating again?

The farmers, who rode tractors and trucks from the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab, say the government has failed to meet some of their key demands from previous protests.

In 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repealed a set of farm laws that sparked the first round of protests by farmers, who said the legislation would hurt their incomes.

A man pulls barbed wire in front of a road sign that says: "Thank you for visiting again".
Workers placed barbed wire over barricades on the main highway in Singhu near New Delhi to prevent thousands of protesting farmers from entering the capital on Tuesday. (Manish Swarup/The Associated Press)

But farmer groups leading the current push say that since then, the government has made no progress on other important demands such as a crop price guarantee, doubling farmers’ income and loan waivers.

Demanding legislation to guarantee minimum support prices is at the heart of their protests.

Currently, the government protects agricultural producers from any sharp decline in farm prices by setting a minimum purchase price for certain staple crops, a system introduced in the 1960s to help shore up food reserves and prevent shortages. But farmers are demanding that this be expanded to include all agricultural products, not just staple crops.

What happened last time?

In November 2021, Modi’s announcement that his government would repeal the controversial laws was widely seen as a victory for farmers and a rare reversal by the populist leader.

The government has defended the laws as necessary reforms to modernize Indian agriculture, but farmers fear the government’s move to introduce market reforms in agriculture will make them poorer.

The protests, which began in northern India, sparked demonstrations across the country and received international support. Dozens of farmers died due to suicides, bad weather and the epidemic.

Political commentators said the protest movement was the biggest challenge up to that point for the Modi government, which then tried to portray its decision to repeal the laws as a move that prioritized farmers.

What does this mean for the Modi government?

The protests come at a critical time for the ruling party and Modi, who is widely expected to sweep the upcoming national elections and secure a third consecutive term.

In 2021, Modi’s decision to do away with the laws was seen as a move to appease farmers ahead of crucial elections in the state.

Hundreds of vehicles, most of them white, in a random traffic jam in foggy conditions.
Vehicles are stuck in heavy traffic on the New Delhi-Gurgaon Sirhaul Expressway during a national strike called by farmers on Tuesday. Indian police set up barricades and banned public gatherings. (Vinay Gupta/AFP/Getty Images)

Farmers constitute India’s most influential voting bloc, and are often romanticized as the heart and soul of the nation.

Politicians have long considered it unwise to alienate them, and farmers are also particularly important to Modi’s base. The northern state of Haryana and a few other states with a large farmer population are ruled by his party.

If the protests gain the same momentum as last time, they could pose a new test for Modi and his government just a few months before the general elections.

(tags for translation)farmers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *