I Love it When a Despot Caves
After a year of protests, Indian PM Narendra Modi has retreated on his corporate friendly agricultural law reforms.
He actually apologized, which is both a first for him, and this is a most welcome development.
He has been trying to offset his authoritarian, and quite frankly genocidal, inclinations by restructuring India’s society in a way that is profitable for western, and particularly US multinational corporations, and it looks like he has run headlong into the limits of such a policy:
Narendra Modi has announced he will repeal three contentious farm laws that prompted a year of protests and unrest in India, in one of the most significant concessions made by his government.
In a huge victory for India’s farmers, who had fought hard for the repeal of what they called the “black laws”, the prime minister announced in an address on Friday morning that “we have taken the laws back”.
“We have decided to repeal all three farm laws. We will start the constitutional process to repeal all the three laws in the parliament session that starts at the end of this month,” said Modi, in a surprise announcement.
While Modi remained adamant in his speech that the laws were necessary reforms, he acknowledged that they were unfeasible given the fierce opposition from farmers. “I appeal to all the farmers who are part of the protest … to now return to your home, to your loved ones, to your farms, and family. Let’s make a fresh start and move forward,” he added.
Modi had passed the three farm laws in 2020 in an attempt to overhaul India’s archaic agriculture sector by rolling back farm subsidies and price regulation on crops. The agriculture sector still employs about 60% of India’s workforce, but is riddled with issues of poverty, debt and inefficiency.
However, they quickly became a major source of contention among India’s millions of farmers, who accused the government of passing the laws without consultation. They said the reforms put their livelihoods and farms at risk and gave private corporations control over the pricing of their crops, which could crush smallholder farmers.
After the government refused to repeal the laws last year, hundreds of thousands of farmers marched to Delhi’s borders, met on the way with barricades, teargas and water cannon, and set up protest camps along the main highways into the capital.
Previously the Modi government had said it would not bow down to pressure from the farmers over the farm laws. Modi, a strongman prime minister, has until now been unyielding to all mass protests and challenges to his government.
However, it is thought that Modi’s decision to rollback the laws and make a rare public apology is tied to upcoming crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where farmers make up a crucial proportion of the “vote bank” and farmers’ unions hold significant power and influence. The farm laws had caused a lot of anger in the north Indian states that are the heartland of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).
Hopefully, this will lead to the loss of Modi and the BJP in the next general election, but given the general fecklessness of the opposition, I am not particularly optimistic.