NEW DELHI: More than 250,000 farmers rallied in Muzaffarnagar in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state on Sunday in renewed protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agricultural reforms.
Farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where most of the country’s agriculture is concentrated and yields are high, have been protesting since September 2020, holding firm on their demand that three farm laws passed last year to open agricultural trade to private companies be scrapped.
While their demonstrations have been less intense in the past few months due to India’s deadly second wave of the coronavirus in March-May, and later the cropping season, Sunday’s rally is seen as a resumption of mass agitation, coming as local elections in Uttar Pradesh — India’s most populous state — are six months away.
“The rally today is an attempt to expand the farmers’ protest and take to different parts of Uttar Pradesh, which is going to the elections soon,” Ashutosh Mishra, leader of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee — an umbrella body of farmer organizations — told Arab News. “The Uttar Pradesh state is going to the polls, and we know that the BJP government works only out of election fear and we want to teach them a lesson,” he said.
“Farmers will spread out to all villages of the state and tell people to vote out the BJP if they don’t act against the three farm laws.” Uttar Pradesh is a crucial state for Indian politics, and if the BJP loses its local polls it may not succeed in the next general election.
Agriculture employs more than 200 million Indians and is the key employer of the country’s workforce.
“The BJP is arrogant and to save its corporate friends it is willing to sacrifice the farming community where 60 percent of Indians find employment,” said farmer leader Sunil Pradhan of the Bhartiya Kisan Union.
“We are left with no option but to launch an open front against the ruling party for its anti-farmer and pro-corporate policies.”
The ruling party sees the protest as “politically motivated.”
“There are people who are doing politics in the name of farmers and it is they who have opened fronts against the BJP,” BJP Uttar Pradesh spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi told Arab News.
“It is a politically motivated agitation and it’s not going to have any impact on people.”
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party government has held 10 rounds of talks with farmers since the beginning of the protests and offered to postpone the implementation of the new laws for 15 months. Protesters have rejected the offer, demanding that the laws be revoked altogether.
Tripathi said that the government was still willing to return to the negotiating table.
“The government is still open to talks,” he said. “The farmer leaders are spreading anarchy through their stubborn approach and if they want to talk with the government they should come out with an open mind and the government will engage with them.”
The resumption of mass farmer rallies may, however, prove expensive for the BJP.
“In democracy, you show your strength when you gather in large numbers. Farmers are showing their strength,” political analyst Surya Pratap Singh, based in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News.
“What you are seeing in the gathering today is a reflection of anti-establishment feelings among the people,” he said. “The rally will affect the fortune of the BJP government. It might uproot the government in the next elections.”