Protesting Indian farmers remained in place over the weekend while their key coalition of unions, Samyukta Kisan Morcha, met. The coalition was deciding how to react to the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced last Friday that he would walk away from controversial farm reforms.
It’s assumed that upcoming elections in five states — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Goa – triggered the announcement, as the Prime Minister’s party didn’t perform well in earlier polls in Punjab and Haryana.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister on Sunday, the coalition of unions asked for legal cases against protesting farmers to be withdrawn. It also asked for a memorial to be built commemorating the hundreds of protesters who lost their lives over the last year.
The letter said, “Thousands of farmers have been implicated in hundreds of cases during this movement (June 2020 till date) in Delhi, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh and several other states. These cases should be withdrawn immediately.
“During this movement, about 700 farmers have died. There should be compensation and rehabilitation support for their families. Land should be allotted at the Singhu Border to build a memorial for the deceased.”
It said protesters would stay in place until the reforms were formally revoked in parliament. It also repeated its calls around the Minimum Support Price (MSP), a policy mechanism that insures agricultural producers against a sharp fall in price, which currently only supports six per cent of farmers.
Monday saw a mass rally demanding that minimum support prices are extended to all crops, not just rice and wheat. Protesters gathered in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.
Sunday’s letter had read, “MSP based on the comprehensive cost of production should be made a legal entitlement of all farmers for all agricultural produce so that every farmer of the country can be guaranteed the MSP announced by the government for their entire crop.”
Farmers have been protesting nationwide, including at the borders of Delhi, since November last year. They demand the withdrawal of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.
“The reforms threatened food security in a system providing for almost 1.4 billion mouths and which employs two thirds of the country”
In addition they have been calling for the new law guaranteeing a minimum support price for crops.
Farmers and their supporters said the reforms threatened the nation’s food security, in a food system providing for almost 1.4 billion mouths and which employs around two thirds of the country.
The heavy-handed police response to their protests shone a spotlight on threats to Indians’ right to dissent.
Narendra Modi made his announcement in an address to the nation on Friday, saying it was no occasion to blame anyone.
“There may have been some shortcoming in our efforts due to which we could not explain the truth, as clear as the light of the diya [a symbolic lamp], to some of our farmer brothers,” he said.
“I have come to tell you that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws. In the upcoming Parliament session starting at the end of this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal the three farm laws.
“I would request all my protesting farmer friends, today [Friday November 19] is the auspicious day of Guru Purab, return home, to your fields and family and make a new beginning, let us move forward afresh.”
Farmers asked in Sunday’s letter for the federal government to withdraw a draft electricity bill, which could stop their right to free or subsidised power.
And they asked the government to drop fines for burning their fields after harvesting to remove stalk and chaff. The smoke has become a source of air pollution in Delhi and satellite towns bordering the northern states.