On Nov. 19, the far-right Modi government of India relented and agreed to repeal three pro-corporate, anti-farmer agricultural policies enacted into law in September 2020 over massive opposition from India’s hundreds of millions of farmers and agricultural workers.
The BJP, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party, is being forced to make these significant concessions under the pressure of a mass movement that has sustained a whole year of protests and occupations, beginning in November 2020. Approximately 700 farmers lost their lives during this heroic struggle.
The farmers’ struggle in India dramatically escalated in November 2020 a quarter of a billion Indians—farmers and workers from the private and public sectors—participated in a nationwide general strike that was perhaps the biggest in human history. Broad sections of the Indian working class stood with the striking farmers.
Since then, tens of thousands of farmers and agricultural laborers have participated in protest camps along the borders of India’s capital city, New Delhi, in the harshest conditions—braving extreme cold, rain and heat amidst a pandemic. Waiting for the government to act, hundreds of farmers have died over the year. The movement was also met with violent police repression and right wing violence.
The sit-in occupations are led by Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a collective of over 40 unions and workers’ associations. Key to the success of the movement is the unity that has been forged among farmers and workers across geographic lines, religion and culture in the process of building and advancing the struggle.
Despite Modi’s announcement that the three pro-corporate laws would be repealed, farmers continue the fight as other core demands remain unmet. The leaders of the movement are cautious given the BJP’s history of making false promises. The three laws still need to be officially repealed by the parliament in the upcoming December session.
In addition to the repeal of the September 2020 farm laws, core demands of the movement include the reversal of the Electricity Amendment Act to prevent the electricity sector from being privatized and the establishment of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all agricultural commodities.
MSP is a guaranteed price at which the government would purchase crops regardless of the market value. MSP is key to alleviating the crushing debt burden faced by Indian farmers.
The farmers movement has shaped up to be a massive force of resistance to the Modi government’s neoliberal agenda that aims to decimate the public sector and privatize it. The win against Modi’s farm laws is a win against agribusiness corporations. At the heart of this movement is the farmers’ fight to maintain control and autonomy over the nation’s agricultural sector from the domination of foreign corporations and imperialist-led economic and political institutions.
Without the sheer determination, perseverance, sacrifice, and militant organization of millions of Indian farmers and workers, this first victory would not be possible. As the fight goes on, this labor struggle playing out in South Asia serves as an inspiration to workers across the world.