• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (ANI Photo)

Shajil KumarBy: Shajil Kumar

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday his government is committed to the welfare of farmers and is on a mission to make them entrepreneurs and exporters, amid a protest by thousands of farmers seeking higher prices for their produce.

Modi’s comments on farmers were his first since the protests began last week and come months before general elections in which he is seeking a rare third term.

Farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been attempting to march to the capital for more than a week as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ (Let’s Go to Delhi) campaign demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops, among other things.

They have been stopped 200 km (125 miles) away by police who have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons, with talks between farmers’ leaders and federal ministers failing to produce a breakthrough.

The farmer leaders said on Wednesday they were pausing their campaign for two days following the death of a young protester, with authorities telling local media that the man had suffered a head injury and the cause was yet to be determined.

The farmers said more than 100 of their leaders from about a dozen states would hold talks in the northern city of Chandigarh later on Thursday to discuss the violence and future plans.

“Our government is committed to fulfill every resolve related to the welfare of our farmer brothers and sisters across the country,” Modi posted on X on Thursday, and referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to raise the floor price that mills must pay for sugar cane by 8%.

The move does not benefit the protesting farmers who mostly grow rice and wheat but will help cane farmers in two other states that send the most lawmakers to parliament.

Political risk

“How to better the life of the small farmer is our focus,” Modi later told a public meeting in his home state of Gujarat, without referring to the protests on the border of Punjab and Haryana states.

“We have given modern seeds to farmers…we are giving solar pumps to farmers…our effort is to get small farmers in villages to meet modern technology,” Modi said. “Besides making them producers, this is a mission to make small farmers entrepreneurs and exporters.”

Although the protesting farmers mostly belong to Punjab state, which has a limited footprint in parliament, analysts say Modi’s party cannot risk the campaign spreading to other states and angering more farmers, who are an influential bloc of voters, so close to the polls.

Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi to repeal a set of farm reform laws in what was seen as the biggest political defeat of the strongman leader.

At the main protest site of Shambhu, on the border between Haryana and Punjab states, dozens of farmers milled on and around the highway, sipping tea, cooking, and collecting tear gas shells fired on Wednesday, as police kept watch.

Earlier on Thursday, social media platform X said it took down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to the farmers’ protests.

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