India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi announced on November 19 that his government would repeal three farming laws that were unilaterally pushed through parliament in September last year. Ten days later, the laws were officially repealed by both houses of Congress.
For the past year, farmers had set up camps on the border of Delhi in protest against farming laws that would likely destabilise whatever remaining infrastructure was in place to support farmers’ property rights, commodity prices and food security. At its peak, one of the camps on the Ghazipour-Delhi border hosted more than 2 million farmers.
The All India General Strike against the laws on November 26, 2020, which was called by 10 trade unions and more than 250 farmers organisations, mobilised 250 million workers and farmers across the country in protest against Modi’s anti-working class, anti-farmer and fascist policies.
In January, the All India Farmers' Struggle Coordination Committee, a pan-Indian umbrella organisation comprising 250 farmers' organisations, held a nationwide tractor rally. In Delhi, a convoy of 10,000 tractors and tens of thousands of farmers entered the capital city in protest, only to encounter police violence.
Throughout the year of struggle, Modi denounce the protesters as “terrorists” and stooges of China and Pakistan as his government increasingly cracked down on the protests.
Modi’s intentions for repealing the laws have been met with some skepticism. While apologising for his failure to persuade farmers of the need for the laws, he did not apologise for the laws themselves or the year-long demonisation and harassment of the protesters.
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) leader Kavita Krishnan noted: “He apologises to the nation for withdrawing the Farm Laws, not to farmers for the hellish year he forced on them, which killed so many of them!”
About 700 farmers lost their lives during the protests.
The motives behind Modi’s change of heart appear to be related to upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Punjab, where his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), senses it may lose its stronghold.
UP is the most populous province in India, with approximately 200 million constituents. Its farmers were the driving force of the protests. A defeat in UP could reenergize the opposition in the lead up to the 2024 national election.
Farmers have pledged to continue protesting until their demands are met. Among other demands, they want the reversal of the Electricity Amendment Act, to prevent the electricity sector from being privatised and state governments withdrawing their right to free or subsidised power, which farmers use mainly for irrigation.
They are also demanding the establishment of a Minimum Support Price for all agricultural commodities, not just rice and wheat which currently only benefits 6% of India’s millions of farmers. Additionally, they want fines and penalties dropped for burning their fields after harvesting to remove stalks and chaff.
All India Kisan Mahasabha general secretary Rajaram Singh explained: “It is a big victory. The movement will continue till the anti-farmer three laws are officially repealed in the upcoming parliament session ... and fabricated cases filed against leaders and members of various farmers' unions are withdrawn.”
The Indian farmer’s movement is an unprecedented movement that succeeded in organising millions. Without the farmers’ determination and sacrifice, Modi’s farm laws would have effectively sold off their livelihoods and autonomy to crony agribusiness corporations and increased food prices and insecurity for Indians.
The movement is a demonstration that people power can preserve the public sector and has become an inspiration for labourers around the world to take on neoliberalism and fascism.