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Indian farmers hold mass rally, keep pressure on Modi despite climbdown By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Farmers and protesters pull a blockade using tractor during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws on the occasion of India’s Republic Day at Tikri border near New Delhi, India, January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

By Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Flushed with victory after Prime Minister Narendra Modi caved into demands for agricultural reform laws to be repealed, Indian farmers held a mass rally on Monday to demand minimum support prices be extended to all produce, not just rice and wheat.

The protest movement launched by farmers more than a year ago became the most serious political challenge to the Hindu nationalist government, and resulted in Modi making a surprise commitment on Friday to roll back the reforms.

Thousands gathered for the latest rally in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will seek to hold onto power in state elections due early next year.

Since late 2020, thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi as part of a mass agitation to pressurise Modi into rolling back the reforms.

His climbdown sparked celebrations by farmers, but their leaders immediately warned that the protests would continue until the government promised to introduce a law that would guarantee minimum prices for all crops.

Currently, the government mainly buys rice and wheat at Minimum Support Prices or guaranteed prices, but the safety net benefits barely 6% of India’s millions of farmers.

In a letter addressed to Modi one Sunday, the main farmers’ body said: “Minimum Support Price, based on the comprehensive cost of production, should be made a legal entitlement of all farmers (and) for all agricultural produce . . .”

Farmers also asked for the federal government to withdraw a draft electricity bill, that they fear would lead to state governments withdrawing their right to free or subsidised power, used mainly for irrigation.

The northern state of Punjab, part of India’s grain belt, gives free electricity to the agriculture sector, while some states subsidise power to farmers.

Growers have also asked the government to drop fines and other penalties for burning their fields after harvesting to remove stalk and chaff. The smoke has become a major source of air pollution in Delhi and satellite towns bordering the crop growing northern states.

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