Narendra Modi has announced he will repeal three contentious farm laws that prompted a year of protests and unrest in India, in one of the most significant concessions made by his government.
In a huge victory for India’s farmers, who had fought hard for the repeal of what they called the “black laws’, the prime minister announced in an address on Friday morning that “we have taken the laws back”.
“We have decided to repeal all three farm laws. We will start the constitutional process to repeal all the three laws in the parliament session that starts at the end of this month,” said Modi, in a surprise announcement on Friday.
He added: “I appeal to all the farmers who are part of the protest … to now return to your home, to your loved ones, to your farms, and family. Let’s make a fresh start and move forward.”
Modi had passed the three farm laws in 2020 in a bid to overhaul India’s archaic agriculture sector. The agriculture sector still employs about 60% of India’s workforce, but is riddled with issues of poverty, debt and inefficiency.
However, they quickly became a major source of contention among India’s millions of farmers, who accused the government of passing the laws without consultation. They said the reforms put their livelihoods at risk and gave private corporations control over the pricing of their crops.
After the government refused to repeal the laws last year, hundreds of thousands of farmers marched to Delhi’s borders, met on the way with barricades, teargas and water cannon, and set up protest camps along the main highways into the capital.
The farmers have remained at the Delhi borders ever since, maintaining one of the most sustained challenges to the Modi government, even through the harsh winters, baking summers and the brutal second wave of Covid-19. The protests turned violent in February when the farmers stormed into the centre of Delhi and briefly took over the historic Red Fort in the old city centre.
The government agreed to suspend the laws earlier this year, but the farmers, who have the backing of powerful unions, said they would not budge until the laws were repealed entirely. On Friday, farmer leader Rikesh Tikait said the farmers would still not budge from their camps until the act of repealing the laws had been carried out in parliament.
Previously the Modi government had said they would not now down to pressure from the farmers and back down on the farm laws. However, is thought that Modi’s decision to rollback the laws is tied to upcoming crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where farmers make up a crucial proportion of the vote bank and farmers’ unions hold significant power and influence. The farm laws had caused a lot of anger in the north Indian states which are the heartland of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
An opposition MP, Palaniappan Chidambaram, said in a tweet: “PM’s announcement on the withdrawal of the three farm laws is not inspired by a change of policy or a change of heart. It is impelled by fear of elections!”
In his speech, Modi said he was repealing the laws because he lamented that the government had been “unable to convince farmers”. “Whatever I did was for farmers,” said Modi. “What I am doing is for the country.”
Amarinder Singh, former chief minister of Punjab state, which is home to many of the protesting farmers, tweeted: “Thankful to PM Narendra Modi … for acceding to the demands of every punjabi.
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