India’s farmers call off year-long protest after gov’t assurances

Protest withdrawn after government agrees to pending demands, including promises to consider guaranteed prices for all produce.

Farmers celebrate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement that he will repeal the controversial farm laws, at Ghazipur near New Delhi [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

India’s farmers will call off a long-running protest after the government concedes to a clutch of pending demands, including assurances to consider guaranteed prices for all produce, not just rice and wheat, union leaders have said.

“We have decided to call off the protest as most of our demands have been accepted by the government,” Jagmohan Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers Union), who attended a meeting of farmer unions on Thursday, told Al Jazeera.

Tens of thousands of farmers had staged the year-long protest to persuade Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal three new laws passed in September last year.

The government said the laws were aimed at modernising India’s vast agriculture sector and would increase the income of the farmers by giving them more choices to sell their produce.

But the farmers said the laws would give private corporations control over the sector and deprive them of a minimum support price (MSP) guaranteed by the government for their produce.

Last month, Modi made a surprise U-turn, apologising to the nation in a TV address and saying he would roll back the controversial legislations. His announcement came ahead of crucial regional elections in ”grain bowl” states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

‘Huge victory for farmers’

Visuals shared by journalists and news organisations on social media showed many farmers removing tents from the main protest site at Singhu outside capital New Delhi on Thursday.

A victory march will be held on Saturday to celebrate the campaign’s victory against the laws, Balbir Singh Rajewal said at one of the protest camps on the outskirts of New Delhi, The Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“It is a huge victory for the farmers,” Singh told Al Jazeera. “This is a big loss for Narendra Modi.”

Balbir Singh Rajewal, a senior leader of a coalition of farmers’ unions, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front) said they have “received a letter from the government which has conceded to our requests”.

But farmers’ leaders would meet on January 15 to review progress on the government’s assurances, Rajewal told a news conference.

“We will resume our protests if the government moves away from the assurances,” said Gurnam Singh Charuni, another farmers’ leader.

From Saturday, farmers will start leaving the protest site on the outskirts of the Indian capital of New Delhi, they said.

The government will set up a panel of growers and government officials to find ways of ensuring MSP for all farm produce, according to the letter. At present, the government buys mainly rice and wheat at such guaranteed prices, benefiting barely 6 percent of India’s farmers.

Agriculture, which accounts for nearly 15 percent of India’s $2.7-trillion economy, is the livelihood of more than half its population of 1.3 billion.

Jagmohan Singh said the government accepted their demands because of a campaign started by the farmers against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He warned that if the government backtracks from its accepted demands, the farmers will hit the streets again.

“If they take a U-turn on MSP or the cases are not withdrawn against farmers by all the agencies, we will come back with our protest programme,” Singh told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies