India farmers protest Modi ‘reform’ push, he stays defiant

iNDICA NEWS BUREAU & IANS

India woke up Friday with farmers up in arms across the nation against three controversial pieces of legislation passed recently by the Narendra Modi government during a truncated session of Parliament.

Opponents of the three bills say they are a means to corporate takeover of agriculture and farmers being left devoid of government support in a primarily agricultural economy. 

The government says the bills are revolutionary reforms of the agriculture sector and will help millions of farmers increase their income substantially by eliminating middle men.

The country’s Opposition political parties, naturally among the critics of the bills, have also pointed to the way in which the three bills were passed in the Upper House of Parliament — without discussion, debate or a vote, and amid suspension of opposing members from the House.

The farmers’ agitation was the most intense in Punjab and Haryana, considered food-bowl states of India. In Karnataka, the protests were lukewarm, according to news agency IANS.

Paramilitary troopers were also deployed in In Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh.

Activists of several farmers’ associations were seen asking traders at many places in the Congress party-ruled Punjab to keep their shops and business establishments shut to mark the pan-India protest.

Reports of shutdown of shops and other establishments were received from Punjab’s Patiala, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Moga, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar and other places.

Northern Railway cancelled three trains and curtailed the routes of 20 special trains, officials said Friday.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is still technically an ally of the ruling BJP at the federal level, has demanded that the whole of Punjab should be declared a ‘principal market yard’ for agricultural produce to ensure that laws based on the three passed agricultural bills do not apply in the northern state.

“This is the best, the quickest and the most effective way for Punjab to pre-empt the application of the Centre’s latest anti-farmer Bills in the state because these will not apply to ‘principal market yards’ declared by any state government. Therefore, the Punjab government must act without delay,” the SAD leader said in a strongly worded statement.

In poll-bound Bihar, though Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav led a tractor rally on Patna roads, public participation was not as widespread as it was in Punjab and parts of Haryana.

In West Bengal, members of farmers’ bodies belonging to the Left parties and the ruling Trinamool Congress staged sporadic protests in various parts of the state demanding withdrawal of the “anti-people” farm bills passed in Parliament.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) farmers’ wing Sara Bharat Krishak Sabha’ and Trinamool-backed Kisaan Khet Mazdoor cell activists took out rallies, held sit-in demonstrations and set the farm bills on fire in Kolkata.

CPI-M students wing SFI activists also staged a road blockade in front of Kolkata’s prestigious Jadavpur University in the afternoon protesting against the farm bills.

In Uttar Pradesh, farmers protesting against the agri bills passed in Parliament earlier this week, blocked the Ayodhya-Lucknow highway for a few hours Friday.

The protesters also burnt crop stubble in the middle of the road and shouted slogans against the Modi9 government, demanding withdrawal of the bills.

Farmers also blocked the Delhi-Meerut highway near Ghaziabad.

Protests were also reported from many districts in Uttar Pradesh, including Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, Sambhal, Ghaziabad, Sitapur, Baghpat and Barabanki.

In Maharashtra, farmers protested in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik, Nandurbar, Jalna, Beed, Aurangabad, Nanded, Yavatmal and Buldhana.

Members of the Karnataka State Farmers’ Association protests at various places, though the participation was not as widespread.

In Tamil Nadu as well, the protests were not even half as emphatic as in Punjab or Haryana.

Amid the nationwide farmer protests, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi insisted Friday that “small and marginal farmers, who constitute 86 percent of those involved in agriculture, will benefit the most from agricultural reforms and the new laws.”

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