India: by renouncing its agricultural reform, Narendra Modi gives in for the first time during a social conflict

Narendra Modi caught everyone off guard. The Indian Prime Minister has decided to cancel his agricultural reform against which peasants have been protesting for more than a year by maintaining blockades at the gates of New Delhi, the longest and most massive protest since India’s independence in 1947. The head of government made a surprise announcement to the nation at 9 a.m. on Friday, November 19.

“We will begin the constitutional process of repealing these three laws during the parliamentary cession which begins at the end of the month”, did he declare. These laws, adopted by Parliament in September 2020 without consultation with the unions, modified the conditions of sale of agricultural products, and liberalized trade by opening it to private investors.

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Above all, they reformed the “mandis” system, the state-regulated markets, which guaranteed farmers to sell their essential products, such as wheat or rice, at a minimum price. This point was crucial for the Indian peasants, very poor for the most part, in debt and having only small plots. They feared that they would be crushed by the traders and lose part of their income.

Fear of an electoral setback

“I call on all the farmers participating in the protests to return home, to reunite with their loved ones, their farms and their families, on this auspicious day of Guru Purab. Let’s make a new start, let’s move forward ”, Narendra Modi launched. The Prime Minister’s announcement comes at a key moment, the day of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. However, among the demonstrators, a large majority are Sikhs from the Punjab and the government had everything to fear from an electoral setback, two years before the general elections.

After a year of fruitless negotiations, then of forgetfulness – the government has pretended for months to ignore the protest – Narendra Modi’s gesture is eminently political. Two key ballots will indeed take place at the beginning of 2022 in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, two high places of peasant protest.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the state of Uttar Pradesh on November 16, 2021.

The Punjab is currently in the hands of Congress, but the latter has recently been torn apart in internal quarrels, and the formation of Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Hindu nationalist right), wants to make an alliance with the former minister chief Amarinder Singh to conquer the Punjab. The latter had, however, exhausted the reform, when it was adopted, intended according to him “To line the pockets of the capitalist buddies of the BJP, to the detriment of the poor farmers, who will fall prey to the great sharks”.

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India: by renouncing its agricultural reform, Narendra Modi gives in for the first time during a social conflict