The World Today for December 03, 2021


Farmers or Bust


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has established a tough guy image in his massive country’s rough-and-tumble politics. But recently, humbled farmers laid him low. Amid huge street protests and intense political pressure, Modi recently rescinded three farm laws that had stirred controversy, an act that threatened to undermine his authority.

Writing in the Guardian, Chennai-based data journalist Rukmini S. described how Modi’s quick decision on the farm laws reminded many Indians of the prime minister’s decisiveness when he abolished 85 percent of the country’s currency in a single day in 2016. Or when he announced Covid-19 lockdowns with four hours’ notice in 2020, triggering a mass exodus out of the country’s massive cities.

The now-defunct farm laws had allowed private companies to purchase crops directly from farmers. A conservative, Hindu nationalist leader who is proudly business-friendly, Modi argued that the new measures would give farmers more freedom. Farmers believed the new rules made them open game for unscrupulous actors. Under the previous system, the government purchased the crops, guaranteeing them a minimum income.

Around half of the South Asian country’s population works in agriculture.

After the laws were enacted, around 250 million farmers and others took to the streets in huge protests, the Washington Post explained. For the past year, hundreds of thousands of protesting farmers have remained in protest camps in major cities. Their organizational skills were a testament to the capacity of India’s democracy to allow for dissent under a leader who has famously sought to squelch his detractors, the New York Times added.

“India’s farming sector, which encompasses directly or indirectly well over half a billion people, is a constituency that politicians clash with at their peril,” wrote the Financial Times. “Narendra Modi has learned this the hard way…the episode highlights once again the pitfalls of the premier’s hard-driving, strongman approach.”

The crowds were also large after Modi’s announcement. Saying that repealing the farm laws was only one of their two goals, thousands demonstrated in Uttar Pradesh calling for minimum price increases for more agricultural goods, Reuters reported. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking to retain power in elections early next year.

Modi hasn’t necessarily changed his mind, though, noted Vox. While he expressed contrition on a national TV broadcast when he announced the repeal of the laws, he spoke as if the implementation, not the spirit, of the laws was the reason for their failure.

While the prime minister might not have changed his mindset, the laws are no longer on the books.

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