After a year of mobilization and an eventual victorious struggle, they returned to their fields. Thousands of Indian farmers were packing up and dismantling tent villages on Saturday, December 11, on the outskirts of New Delhi, in order to return home after a year of protests against the government’s agricultural policies. Hundreds of them were dancing and partying “Victoire”, Saturday morning, when roadblocks were lifted and their makeshift shelters on major highways were dismantled.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved parliament last month to scrap three land reforms that protesters said would allow private companies to take control of the country’s agricultural sector. But the protesters initially refused to leave their camps, and put forward other demands, such as ensuring a fixed minimum price for their agricultural products.
The government has promised to set up a commission on the matter and is committed to stopping the prosecution of farmers who burn crop residues, accused of polluting New Delhi’s air every winter.
The biggest crisis for Narendra Modi’s government
The authorities also agreed to pay compensation to the families of hundreds of farmers it said had died during the protests, as well as to stop criminal proceedings against the protesters.
This farmers’ movement, the biggest crisis facing the Modi government since he came to power, underscores the structural crisis in peasant farming and the lack of empathy and dialogue on the part of the Prime Minister. During his 2014 election, to double their income by 2022.
Farmers make up almost half of the population – 650 million Indians, but they make up only 14% of GDP. They own smaller and smaller plots of land and are increasingly in debt under the pressure of the intensive production method brought on by the “green revolution” of the 1960s.
The agricultural laws that Mr Modi wanted were passed in September 2020 to allow farmers to sell their produce to buyers of their choice, rather than resorting exclusively to state-controlled markets to guarantee a minimum support price (PSM) for certain foodstuffs. Many small farmers opposed it, believing that they were threatened by this liberalization which, they said, risks being forced to sell their goods to large corporations.
After protests in Punjab and Haryana in the north of the country, tens of thousands of farmers headed to the capital, where they were violently expelled by police, ushering in a year-long bipartisan crisis.
Since his re-election in May 2019, Mr Modi has played a strategy of tension, exacerbating animosities to discredit opponents of his reforms. In December 2019, a law granting Indian citizenship to refugees, unless they are Muslims, sparked a protest movement on an unprecedented scale across the country. For months, Indians took to the streets and the protest ended only due to the arrival of the Covid-19 epidemic and the general containment ordered by the Prime Minister.