Indian Parliament votes to repeal farm laws after Modi’s U-turn

Parliament passes a bill to cancel the contentious laws that led to yearlong agitation by tens of thousands of farmers.

Farmers celebrate the government's decision to repeal the controversial farm laws, at Ghazipur protest site outside New Delhi [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

India’s Parliament has voted to scrap agricultural reform laws that sparked a year of huge protests by farmers, after a surprise U-turn by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped out on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi for more than a year – one of the biggest challenges to Modi’s Hindu nationalist government since he came to power in 2014.

The rallies became a lightning rod for discontent in a country where two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population rely on agriculture for their livelihood.

In its first meeting of the winter session on Monday, both houses of Parliament rushed through a bill to scrap the laws amid protests by the opposition that demanded a discussion on the issue.

The legislation will likely be signed off by President Ram Nath Kovind by Monday night.

But farmers’ unions have declared to keep up the fight until they secure further concessions from the government.

“It’s a victory for farmers. We are happy the laws have been repealed,” Harinder Happy, spokesman for Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a coalition of more than 40 farmers’ unions, told Al Jazeera.

But he added he was disappointed that no discussion on the controversial laws took place in Parliament.

“The way [farm laws] were brought without any discussion with opposition parties or farmers last year, the same way they have been repealed now which is not good.”

Happy said the farmers will not call off their protest and will now push for other demands, including minimum support prices (MSPs) for crops and compensation for the families of hundreds of farmers they said died during the protests.

People wait to enter Gateway of India in Mumbai to immerse ashes of farmers killed during protests after attending a sit-in rally to show solidarity with the protesting farmers [Niharika Kulkarni/Reuters]

“I don’t think this government has any sympathy for farmers,” Vishavjot Mann, who joined a weekend rally for agricultural workers in Mumbai, told the AFP news agency.

“The government has just announced they will repeal the laws, not because they think that they were wrong but because they understand that these protests will hamper their election results,” she added.

Modi’s reversal came ahead of important elections for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, both home to a large numbers of farmers.

The BJP already holds power in Uttar Pradesh, but its support is under pressure over a struggling economy and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

If farmers desert the ruling party, it will not only shrink prospects to form a state government for a second term but also weaken chances for the party to get an overwhelming majority in the 2024 national elections.

Political analysts say these upcoming elections are a major reason behind the surprise move to withdraw the three farm laws, but that it is too early to say whether it will work.

The government claimed the legislations, passed in September last year, aimed to deregulate farm produce markets.

But protesting farmers said the laws would lead to a corporate takeover of the vast agriculture sector, which is the largest source of livelihood in India and about 70 percent of rural households depend on it for a living.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies