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India: Farmers protest in Delhi to demand higher crop prices

March 14, 2024

Farmers were allowed to demonstrate in India's capital after weeks of being blocked by police. It comes ahead of elections in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a third term.

An Indian farmer holds a mock plough at a demonstration as protesters rally in Delhi
Indian farmers are protesting in the capital New Delhi after being blocked for weeksImage: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

Thousands of farmers gathered in India's capital, New Delhi, on Thursday to demand higher prices for crops.

The demonstrations came a month after farmers set up camp in northern India after riot police stopped them from reaching the capital.

Farmers' protests come ahead of elections

India's government is expected in the coming days to call new elections, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to seek a third term.

Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have said in the past that they are committed to the farmers' welfare and prosperity. Farmers represent an important Indian voting bloc as nearly half of India's workforce lives off the agriculture sector.

The rally was held at the Ramila Ground area. The Press Trust agency reported that the rally was permitted on the condition that only up to 5,000 people attend it.

Farmers were also barred from bringing tractors and trucks or any weapons, including sticks.

Allowing the protests to go ahead was seen as a concession from the government, which blocked previous demonstrations.

In February, thousands of farmers from the northern state of Punjab set out for New Delhi in trucks and tractors. Security forces used tear gas and water cannons to stop the protesters about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from their destination, along the border between Punjab and the neighboring state of Haryana.

Sporadic clashes have broken out between protesters and security forces over the last few weeks.

Women dressed in yellow scarves raise their fists during a farmers' protest in New Delhi
Farmers are seeking a minimum purchase price for their cropsImage: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

What are the demands of the farmers' protests?

Farmers are seeking state guarantees of more support for the agricultural sector or a minimum purchase price for crops.

"Through this meeting, we want to show government authorities that we are not too far from reaching our goals," Darshan Pal of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) farmer's group told India's ANI news agency. "We can surround Delhi whenever we want."

Following a protest that lasted from August 2020 to December 2021, Modi's government repealed agricultural reform laws and pledged to set up a panel to find ways to ensure support prices. Farmers accuse New Delhi of stalling on this commitment.

Protesters are demanding New Delhi honor a promise to double their incomes. They also want the government to ensure at least a 50% profit over the cost of production and a debt waiver.

Farmers' unions and the government held four rounds of talks in February but failed to reach an agreement.

New Delhi proposed minimum support prices for farmers who diversify crops, an offer rejected by union leaders.

sdi/sms (Reuters, AP)