WDH / ROUNDUP: India’s strong man is rowing back on agricultural market reform

(Typo in the heading corrected)

NEW DELHI (dpa-AFX) – After almost a year of farmer protests, India wants to overturn a controversial agricultural market reform. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this on Friday. Modi, who likes to portray himself as a strong man, is giving in to a conflict that has brought the government into one of its greatest crises.

Thousands of farmers protested against the agricultural market reform around the capital New Delhi for almost a year. At that time they lived there in tents. Modi now called on them to return to their farms.

Agriculture in India is inefficient and many see a need for reform. However, the subject is politically sensitive, as more than half of the population still makes a living from agriculture. Most of them are small farmers and have little alternative to earning a living.

The government had previously argued that more private business would increase rural incomes, but farmers feared the opposite. Specifically, the controversial laws on market opening should make it easier for companies to buy directly from farmers. So far, in India, grain has mostly been traded in state-organized wholesale markets with middlemen at guaranteed minimum prices. The government tried to convince farmers’ representatives in several rounds of talks that the laws were good for them – in vain.

Elections will soon be held in two important rural states – Uttar Pradesh and Punjab – in which Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party will face strong regional competition. Uttar Pradesch is the most populous state in India – with about as many inhabitants as Brazil – with the most seats in parliament. Modi is also unlikely to want to lose the Sikhs, a particularly large number of the protesters and who make up the majority population in Punjab, as voters.

Farmers’ union representatives stated that they only wanted to evacuate their protest locations when the reform was actually officially overturned by parliament. That should happen in the winter session that starts at the end of the month./asg/DP/mis

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