By Tanveer Kaur
Farmers from the nearby Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are organizing on a national level to protest the agricultural policies set forth by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Arriving both on tractors and by foot in New Delhi, farmers and their families have been blocking roads and setting makeshift camps. The farmers are protesting a law introduced by the BJP and the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, which will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarket chains. The move has enraged farmers, who claim that the law would make it easier for big corporations to exploit the farmers. In response to the protests, police have erected barriers and dug up roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city center to hold sit-ins. In addition, they have tear gas and water cannons to stop the protesters from entering the city.
For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle. Under those laws, farmers sold their goods at auction at their state's Agricultural Produce Market Committee. At these auctions, they were guaranteed at least the government-agreed minimum price. There were restrictions on who could purchase at auction, and prices were capped for essential commodities. Modi’s new laws would disassemble the committees, allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price. Farmers would have more freedom to sell to anyone with the farmers’ set prices. However, farmers believe selling directly to big corporations could make it easier for the corporations to undervalue the crops. While farmers could sell crops at upraised prices if there is enough demand, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price at times when there is too much supply in the market.
The real consequence is that agriculture is the prime source of livelihood for 58% of India’s population of 1.3 billion people. This has caused farming to become a central political issue, with farmers arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased. In 2014, then-candidate Modi promised federally backed minimum wages 50% higher than production costs in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general election manifesto. In 2016, Modi promised to boost the country's agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022. The Modi administration has done more harm than good for India’s farmers which can be seen in the anguish that the Indian farmers protest with.