India will repeal three agricultural reform laws that sparked almost a year of massive protests by farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday, in a stunning U-turn for his Hindu nationalist government.
Thousands of farmers have been camped out on the borders of the capital New Delhi since November last year.
The rallies became a lightning rod for opposition to Modi’s administration in a country in which two thirds of the 1.3 billion population rely on agriculture for their livelihood.
“We have decided to repeal all three farm laws. We will start the constitutional process to repeal all the three laws in the parliament session that starts at the end of this month,” Modi said in an address to the nation.
“I appeal to all the farmers who are part of the protest… to now return to your home, to your loved ones, to your farms, and family. Let’s make a fresh start and move forward,” he added.
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Modi’s government had claimed the laws would boost rural incomes and reform an inefficient agricultural sector.
But protests said the changes would allow Indian conglomerates to take over the farming industry, long protected by state-run bodies that guarantee minimum prices.
The farmers first tried to march on New Delhi last November but in violent clashes police prevented them from entering the capital.
The farmers camped out at two sites outside the city, blocking major highways, and in the subsequent months they dug in, with volunteers providing food, running water, toilets and even dentist surgeries and foot massage parlours.
In recent months the protest sites had thinned out, but a hardcore contingent remained and major demonstrations had been expected for the one year anniversary of the start of the rallies later this month.
Read more: Victory or death: Indian farmers
The rallies took a violent turn in January when a tractor rally in Delhi transformed into a rampage that embarrassed the government on Indian Republic Day that left one farmer dead and hundreds of police officers wounded.
Last month another eight people died in clashes in Uttar Pradesh state.
Great news! Thankful to PM @narendramodi ji for acceding to the demands of every punjabi & repealing the 3 black laws on the pious occasion of #GuruNanakJayanti. I am sure the central govt will continue to work in tandem for the development of Kisani! #NoFarmers_NoFood @AmitShah
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 19, 2021
Amarinder Singh, former chief minister of Punjab state — home to many of the protesting farmers — on Friday hailed Modi’s announcement as “great news”.
“Thankful to PM @narendramodi… for acceding to the demands of every punjabi” he tweeted.
Modi’s announcement came on Guru Purab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, to which many of the protesting farmers adhere.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk