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Indian farmers push back Modi’s laws, but battles remain

After more than a year of militant campaigning Modi’s plans lie in tatters.
Issue 2782
Indian farmers in tractors and other vehicles take the streets during a protest in 2020.

Farmers used tractors to strengthen their protests (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Farmers across India are celebrating this weekend after the government was forced into a humiliating climbdown on its agriculture laws.

Last year hard right prime minister Narendra Modi pushed through legislation designed to wipe out small farms and replace them with giant agribusiness.

But after more than a year of militant campaigning Modi’s plans now lie in tatters. “I urge farmers to return home to their families and let’s start afresh,” pleaded the prime minister.

Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer leader and activist, said he was “ecstatic” after hearing the news. The feeling was “like you’ve conquered Mount Everest,” he said.

Mann and thousands of others have blockaded roads, organised huge protest marches and camps—and earlier this year even stormed the capital with wave after wave of tractors. Their agitation has won the respect and admiration of all those who have suffered under the BJP government.

It could have brought together poor people of all ethnicities, castes and religions. But the main left parties were far more concerned with how this might affect state elections during the course of the year to truly throw their weight behind it.

As a result, many dangers for farmers remain. “There is no trust, no confidence in this government,” said Om Pal Singh Malik, a protest leader at the camp in Ghazipur, on the outskirts of New Delhi. Malik is right to be dubious.

A key reason for Modi’s retreat is that BJP strategists believe the anti-farmer laws could cost them dearly in the forthcoming elections in the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Once the voting period is over it’s possible that Modi will return to the warpath.


And there are other reasons for the farmers to keep up their fight. One of the movement’s key demands was for an increase in the minimum price the state pays for particular crops.

If Modi is able to hold out on this question then hundreds of thousands of India’s poorest people will once again face ruin.

Some 49,000 farmers died by suicide in 2019. Most were made desperate by a cycle of poverty and debt that ultimately saw their crops fail and their land bought up by rich landlords.

Millions of people have been hit by Modi’s terrible mishandling of the economy and the pandemic.

The government has desperately tried to divert attention by prolonging a conflict in the disputed Kashmir region. It has also used harsh laws and violent thugs to target Muslims as an “anti-national” enemy within.

But the last year has also shown the limits of the BJP’s power. At times, the farmers’ movement had come close to linking with workers’ strikes. Such a combination could have wielded a power big enough to bring down the government.

“What is there to cheer about?” asked Jagtar Singh, who cultivates ten acres in Punjab. “The farm laws were wrong so he has taken them back. “Who is going to pay for the losses we have suffered in the past 14 months?”

More than 600 demonstrators have died from heat, cold and exhaustion over the past year of protests.

Four more were killed last month when a car owned by the son of India’s junior home minister rammed into them.

The farmers’ movement has already shown the way to deal with Modi and his gangsters. They must stand firm until all their demands are met.

But is also high time that the unions and the huge forces of the left took a leaf out of the farmers’ book. Real political power doesn’t lie in state elections, it lies in the streets, campuses and workplaces.

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