India’s agriculture industry was at the centre of a political maelstrom in September 2020 when the government passed three controversial farm regulations. After a year, the country is still trying to deal with the effects of these changes. Protests have erupted across the country, the issue has gained worldwide attention, and serious concerns have been voiced about the future of agriculture and politics in India because of it.
The Contentious Agricultural Laws
These three statutes are the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, the Essential Commodities (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act. They wanted to abolish government-mandated minimum support prices (MSP) for specific commodities and open up the agricultural industry to direct sales by farmers to consumers outside of established agricultural marketplaces.
Unrest and Protests Among Farmers
Across the country, farmers and agricultural workers were quick to express their displeasure at the farm rules. They claimed the revisions would weaken their negotiating position and make them easier targets for companies. Farmers in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana spearheaded the subsequent widespread demonstrations. Celebrities and activists alike showed their support for the protests, helping them gain traction and publicity throughout the world.
Farmers in the Tikri border area near Delhi stopped key highways and set up tent camps, making it one of the most prominent protest sites. The government’s attempts to calm the unrest escalated into a lengthy stalemate. Several farmer suicides were also a tragic byproduct of the campaign, underscoring the widespread despair and desperation in the agricultural sector.
Reforms in Government Response
The Indian government, under intense pressure, attempted many times to find a solution to the situation. In response to the protesting farmers’ demand for a complete repeal of the rules in November 2020, the government instead proposed modifying the legislation instead. The government and the farmers continued to talk on and off, and certain compromises were made (such as a written assurance on MSP), but the underlying problem was still not fixed.
The administration made a dramatic about-face in September 2021 when it decided to abolish the three agriculture legislation. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, said in a televised address that the rules had resulted in confusion and discontent among farmers. The farmers who had protested for over a year saw the repeal as a win for their cause.
Consequences and Future Steps
The overturning of the agricultural regulations marked a watershed moment in American politics. Collective action was shown to be effective, and the need for a responsive government was brought to light. But it also caused many to mistrust the legitimacy of government decisions and the accuracy of polls.
There will be long-term effects of the demonstrations on Indian politics. It was a demonstration of the agricultural community’s ability to band together and fight back against policies that they viewed as harmful. It has also reignited discussions about agrarian unrest, the necessity for agricultural reforms, and the government’s place in the agricultural industry.
The abolition of the farm laws provided some respite, but it did nothing to fix the fundamental problems plaguing Indian agriculture. Low income, limited access to financing, and the vulnerability of smallholders in a more globally integrated market are ongoing struggles for farmers.
Agriculture is not only an economic industry but a fundamentally political and social one, as seen by the year-long drama of India’s agricultural legislation and the accompanying demonstrations. With an eye toward the future, India’s government must collaborate with farmers and other stakeholders to create agricultural policies that may solve the sector’s persistent problems while protecting the livelihoods of people who work the land.
Finally, a contentious chapter in India’s political history has closed with the repeal of the agricultural laws. A more productive discussion on agricultural changes that will improve the lives of millions of farmers across the country can build off of this report. India still has a long way to go before its agricultural tale ends, and the country has to figure out how to expand the industry in a way that benefits everyone.