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What We're Watching: Modi plays politics with farmers

People celebrate in Kolkata, India on Nov. 19, 2021 after Indian PM Narendra Modi announced the repeal of three controversial farm laws after a year of protests. Friday's surprise announcement marks a major U-turn as the government had not taken any initiative to talk to farmers in recent months.

Modi plays politics with farmers. The Indian government's recent climbdown on three agricultural laws was a rare concession from Modi, a popular, strong-willed nationalist who came to power in 2014 and has refused to back down on contentious and oft-criticized policy issues – like decimating India's cash money supply, revoking Kashmir's autonomous status, or amending the country's citizenship laws to effectively exclude Muslims. Now, farmers unions seem to smell blood in the water. While many are indeed thrilled that Modi has done away with the farming reforms, which would no longer have guaranteed minimum prices for crops, giving more power to big business, many see this concession as a shrewd political move. Early next year elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and an agricultural stronghold which traditionally backs Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. But the BJP has lost support there in recent months because of the agricultural laws. Still, Modi hasn't won over farmers just yet: farm unions want the government to write certain "minimum support prices" into law, and to expand the number of crops that are given these government price protections. But a law like that won't be popular with powerful agriculture corporations. Will Modi do it anyway?


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