Thousands of farmers particularly from Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have been camping at Delhi’s borders since last November, protesting against the so-called reforms.
The announcement on Friday morning came on a day Sikhs – the dominant community in Punjab – are celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. In his nationally-televised address, Modi said the farm laws were meant to strengthen the small farmers. “But despite several attempts to explain the benefits to the farmers, we have failed. On the occasion of Guru Purab, the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws,” he added.
The surprise announcement marks a major U-turn as the government had not taken any initiative to talk to farmers in recent months. Modi’s ministers have been steadfastly insisting that the laws were good for farmers and there was no question of taking them back.
Farm unions are seeing this as a huge victory. But experts say the upcoming state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh – which both have a huge base of farmers – may have forced the decision. They say that Modi-led BJP govt knows that angry farmers would hurt its chances of winning the crucial polls scheduled to take place early next year.
BJP members say the decision to repeal the laws had nothing to do with the polls and the decision was taken to end the protest.
Rakesh Tikait, one of the most prominent farmer leaders, said they would stop their protest movement only after the government repealed the laws in the winter session of parliament. Another farmer leader said they needed additional promises from the government around assured prices for their crops to end their protest.
Opposition parties have welcomed the decision. Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said the repeal of the laws was a win against injustice. Taking a swipe at PM Modi over the announcement to cancel the farm laws, he tweeted, “The country’s farmers have defeated arrogance with their satyagraha….”. He tweeted, along with an old tweet from January this year where he said, “Mark my words, the government will have to take back the anti-farm laws.”
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella group of some 40 farmers’ unions, had refused to back down despite appeals from the government to end their protest. Farmers continued to block motorways to Delhi through harsh winter and summer months and even through deadly Covid waves. They called for strikes across the country and dozens of them even died due to cold, heat and Covid.
The government initially engaged with them and offered to put the laws in abeyance for two years. But after farmers rejected their overtures, the authorities retreated, preferring to go with the wait-and-watch attitude.