Narendra Modi’s policies freeze as months of protests in India increase

  • + Modi doesn’t seem to find a solution to the farmer’s protests that have been going on for months. 
  • + India’s agricultural industry is in need of a new revolution, but not the one proposed by Modi. 
  • + International community is on the watch due to Modi’s increasingly undemocratic practices. 
Source: Indian Express

Why is Modi’s heat level freezing?

Answer: His unwillingness to try to reach a consensus with the farmers and solve the protests has caught the attention of the international community.

The attention of the international community has finally turned to India after months of protests that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t been able or willing to solve. Tensions between the protesters and the government forces unleashed conflict and violence in what was going to be a pacific march on the 26th of January, India’s Republic Day. 

The protests began in August in the states of Punjab and Haryana, both of them in the north of the country and known as India’s bread baskets. Since then, rallies and campaigns spread throughout the country till farmers marched on Delhi in November. 

For months now, the farmers have been camped at New Delhi’s outskirts, blocking some of the city’s main accesses. These protests have been pacific, however, at the end of January farmers with thousands of tractors broke into the city ramming through the barricades and confronted the police forces, who responded with tear gas and a baton charge.

Most farmers in India are small owners, the average size of their plots is of one hectare, the size of an international rugby field, and most of them do not even have enough to sell. Low productivity, small landholdings, lack of infrastructure and high indebtedness have been dragging down India’s agrarian sector. 

Because of this, Prime Minister Modi and his government have passed new laws that will completely change the way in which the country’s agricultural system works, and has done so, for decades. 

It is true that farmers have been asking for reforms for years but, instead of providing help and protection Modi’s government went in the opposite direction. A direction that farmers feel threatens their way of life and will draw them into poverty. 

In the 1960s, the new independent country of India was struggling to produce enough food to feed its citizens. So, the government, headed by Manmohan Singh, decided to intervene by modernizing the agricultural sector in what was called the Green Revolution. Although they managed to increase the production, they overused chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation which provoked that large plots of land became infertile. Nevertheless, rice and wheat production soared and soon there was a surplus of these crops. 

In this context, India developed a nation-wide food market system to ensure fair prices. Basically, farmers take their product to wholesale markets, commonly referred to as mandis and there, they sell their products to traders in open auctions. Prices are based on the minimum support price, a government price or certain crops (the main ones such as rice, cotton and wheat) that serves as a benchmark.

Each of the three new agriculture acts introduced by Modi deregulates a part of this system and at the same time they create; 

  • Free, unregulated trade spaces outside the markets which override the mandis rules, eliminating the benchmark. 
  • New frameworks for contract farming deals which mean very little oversight
  • Resource storage system as storage limits previously set by the government to control prices have been eliminated.  

The farmers fear that big corporations will take advantage of them in this new unregulated market as small farmers will depend on the rules set by big corporations. Farmers claim that corporations will slowly increase the prices and take over the mandis, completely eliminating the regulated market and after that, they’ll have complete control over the prices. 

This is why farmers have “risen in arms” against Modi’s government, because these aren’t the laws they needed, they feel cheated and they have decided to fight for their rights.  

Who is changing Modi’s temperature?

Answer: Farmers are not willing to back off unless Modi changes the agricultural laws to something that will actually benefit them.

At the moment, it seems like Modi’s strategy is to stay put and see how the events unravel. However, his inaction cannot continue as the farmers show no sign of wearing down and still have until March until they need to worry about their crops.

In addition to this, workers from other sectors have started joining the farmers in their protests, as they claim farmers and labourers are tied to each other through the production cycle. A cycle that Prime Minister Modi is determined to alter and to deteriorate the conditions of workers in doing so. 

The demonstrations show how difficult it is for the Indian government to introduce changes in sectors where so many interests are vested. They are also proof of the emerging trend within Modi’s rule of getting into trouble by passing significant laws in a unilateral way, without considering the interest of the people involved. 

The new agriculture acts show Modi’s tendency to take fundamental decisions by himself, making little attempt for consensus. Right now, it seems like neither him nor his government want to show weakness by yielding to the farmers. It is true that they’ve set up commissions to talk to the protesters, however after around eleven meetings they haven’t been able to reach an agreement. 

This has provoked an escalation in tensions, that led to the violent protests during the Republic Day parade, when some protesters broke the barricade and stormed into Delhi’s Red Fort. Clashes between farmers and police ended up with one dead protester and more than 80 injured policemen. 

Thus, Prime Minister Modi needs to find a solution to the issue, especially now that the international media has started to pay attention, making the pressure over his inability to solve the problem grow. 

What is driving Modi?

Answer: India’s economy and agricultural sector are in need of a second Green Revolution. 

India’s agricultural system needs a change, and no one can’t deny it. Modi decided to push forward market-friendly laws to try and help the country’s struggling agriculture industry. While the sector employs approximately 60% of India’s working force, it only accounts for 15% of its GDP.

Therefore, a new “revolution” is necessary for two main reasons. Firstly, in spite of its economic growth and international power, India still has a considerably high malnutrition rate amongst its population. Secondly, because most farmers live below the poverty line even though they have jobs and there is a demand for their products. This last point has been reflected in the drama of farmer’s suicides. In the past years nearly 20.000 farmers have committed suicide due to their inability to cope with their debts. 

Although there is a pressing need for reform, there is a huge danger in the deregulation established by the government-promoted laws, which will leave farmers worse off than they are now. 

Farmers argue that more control is needed, they call for stronger enforcement of those regulations that helped India get out of the crisis in the 60s, otherwise they’ll be in the hands of greedy corporations. However, these regulations include minimum guaranteed prices, something that Modi’s allies in government assert there is no more money for. 

Modi claims that these new laws will help farmers and set them free from their distresses. However, these alleged benefits haven’t been shown nor explained to the farmers so far. 

Another possibility is that Modi is using these protests to push forward his and his party’s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ideology, the Hindutva which is contrary to multiculturalism. Most farmers in India, especially in the Punjabi area are from the Sikh community and by branding protesters as Khalistanis, a branch within Sikhs that seeks to create an independent nation, Modi tries to give the movement and ethno-nationalist approach that will grant him the support of a part of the population. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Individually, it affects your pantry and your closet. In the international sphere, it affects the US foreign policy and the South East Asia alliance against China. 

India is one of the world’s main producers of cash crops, such as wheat and rice, spices, like cardamom or nutmeg and garlic, and also one of the biggest cotton producers. Therefore, farmers in the main agricultural areas being in New Delhi protesting and not tending to their land will probably create a shortfall of these products not only in India but worldwide. So, it is highly probable that the prices of essential goods, such as bread, manufactured with these elements, will rise.

Also, protests haven’t been exclusive to India, as numerous people are also raising their voices in support. Partially thanks to the large indian diaspora, that has taken the issue at an international level when the media wouldn’t.

Furthermore, the situation in India is not only about the farmers’ protests, but also about the failure of democracy and rise of populism that is taking place all over the world. The rise of the”strong man” as the only suitable leader is not exclusively indian, but an issue that has been occurring all over the world. Therefore, as interventions by celebrities such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg prove, this is a problem for all of us. 

The state that the pandemic has shown there are two economies and that the essential workers are the ones suffering the most around the world. Therefore, workers around the world are supporting Indian farmers as they speak against the wealthy corporations that take advantage of people all over the world. This is especially true in the case of India, as Modi’s line of action is highly influenced by the big corporations. 

In terms of the international sphere, the protests are strongly damaging India’s image. Not only the lack of solution but the way the whole situation is being handled is making other countries question India’s democracy. A number of journalists broadcasting the protests have been incarcerated which speaks poorly of the country’s protection of freedom of speech.

An example of the international community’s reaction is President Biden’s tense relationship with Prime Minister Modi. India is essential to the U.S as an ideological and strategic counter to China’s power. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the US President to ignore Modi’s certainly undemocratic actions. 

If India loses the support of its democratic allies it is hard to see where could Modi find new friends as his enmity with China and its sphere of influence is well known to everyone.