World news – Opinion: PM Modi should stand up to protesting farmers


India’s excited farmers are showing no signs of fading. Angry cultivators camp on the doorstep of Delhi for weeks through the biting cold winter of northern India. They have shown a knack for staying in the headlines with eye-catching stunts like staging a tractor convoy against India’s official Republic Day parade.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government looks shaken. But it should hold on. The reforms that have made the protesters so angry go further than previously envisaged to address the difficult-to-solve problems of Indian agriculture. These changes must be protected and not abandoned.

In particular, three new laws that were passed hastily and openly against parliamentary norms last year sparked the agitation. Now the Federal Minister of Agriculture, who has been tasked with negotiating with the demonstrators, has offered to postpone implementation. This follows a series of further concessions in December.

However, the farmers near Delhi are opposed to a whole series of real and imaginary reform measures. They want a full and immediate repeal of the laws passed last year. In addition, they want the government to guarantee that the current system of government procurement of rice and wheat will continue indefinitely – even if it is not yet threatened.

The farmers are realizing that the government is playing defense. There are even rifts within the ruling establishment. The parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has indicated that the government should compromise.

This is no surprise. Despite the rhetoric of its members of the government, the RSS was never sold for the whole idea of ​​the « market economy ». Still, it is remarkably disappointing that the government appears ready to roll back some of its biggest reforms to date, with the country’s most heavily subsidized and richest agricultural producers vocal against it.

Let’s not get into the bush here talk around: the government has already conceded too much. For example, it has agreed to protect farmers’ access to free electricity. Not only is this unaffordable, but it is also a drag on the modernization of India’s energy sector and, with it, the growth of renewable energy. Authorities have also promised not to seek out farmers who incinerate agricultural waste – a major contributor to air pollution in the northern plains of India, home to nearly all of the world’s most unhealthy cities.

What is at risk is not just a few laws, but India’s commitment to moving to a greener and fairer growth model. In their demand that unsustainable practices move into a new and more environmentally conscious age, the demonstrators are more than anything reminiscent of France’s gilets excursions. And Modi’s government seems more inclined to buckle than that of French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron – although Modi is far more politically safer than Macron with an approval rating of 78%.

Given the stakes, it’s annoying how miserable that is political management and government messaging were. For one thing, she has not been able to effectively convey her case to farmers, who would benefit from the reforms and who may have prevented their colleagues from hijacking the narrative. It has alienated a long-term ally – a Sikh religious party called Akali Dal – who otherwise could have helped tackle the effects of the reform.

And the government should understand by now that reform is a subsidy best with a clear Way to an alternative form of support can be initiated. That just wasn’t on offer. Before surrendering to the protesters, the government should at least try to figure out what it could do to sweeten the originally proposed deal.

Modi and his advisors should also have no illusions about the price of the withdrawal. You tried to deal with problems in the agricultural sector during Modi’s tenure. Their attempt to strengthen the government’s powers to acquire farmland had to be withdrawn after loud objections from the political opposition.

Objectively speaking, these land acquisition laws were just as regressive as the new agricultural reforms – but that’s not the point. The lesson is that Modi lost the reform initiative in 2015 and never fully restored it in his first term. Neither he nor India can afford to make the same mistake twice.

(Mihir Sharma is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He was a columnist for Indian Express and Business Standard and author of Restart: The Last Chance For The Indian Economy « .)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions contained in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV assumes no responsibility or liability for them.

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)

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