Why are India’s farmers protesting? – BBC Newsnight

they arrive by tractor foot and even on horseback determined to protest peacefully over the government's new farm laws convinced their livelihoods are at stake a populist prime minister narendra modi is now battling national unrest from farmers the very people who embody so many of india's traditions and values they will buy our crop at whatever the price they want and they will sell at whatever price they want for those farmers under 10 acres they'll die on the face of it this is a movement that has grown in response to three agricultural laws passed last year they're intended to modernize and deregulate india's agriculture the legislation loosens the rules around the sale pricing and storage of farm produce which means farmers can sell directly to private buyers instead of government-controlled markets known as mandy's where they get a minimum guaranteed price the government says the change will leave farmers better off by making markets more efficient and attracting more investment but many farmers fear that big business will exploit them to absorb smallholders farmers are facing lots of trouble these three bad laws should be repealed then everybody will go back home no one will stay here why would we risk dying in the cold away from home we have lots of work to do four out of ten indians work as farmers and agriculture more widely employs half the country all my ancestors have been in farming and we depend on it these laws that have been forcing us aren't good for us i mean how's it good all these big companies will buy directly from us they've built huge warehouses they'll take the produce at a cheap rate from us and sell it for twice the price we voted for modi we were swayed by his false promises we gave him power he said nothing for us next time he won't even vote for him or support him but this isn't just a story about farming it's a story about power and what's worrying india's leaders is that this has grown into a mass protest movement if modi compromises he could appear weak if he doesn't this shows no signs of abating tens of thousands of farmers have been striking on the outskirts of delhi since november and in january things descended into chaos hundreds of police and protesters were injured and then came this protesters pushed their way into delhi's iconic red fort a symbol of power for centuries and a sign of india's strength so far attempts to negotiate have failed the farmers and the government can't reach a deal and with each passing day it's becoming a bigger challenge for prime minister modi well joining us now are the president of the hindu forum of britain tripty patel and sonny hundle a political commentator who writes for the online blog open democracy welcome to you both tripty can i start by asking you good evening um the prime minister's obviously paying quite a price to try and get these reforms through what what's the benefit what's the what's the prize as far as the government is concerned it's not just the government this reforms been needed for a for a long period of time and previous governments actually commissioned um this one the swaminathan committee and various other committees where it came out that how can we make sure that our farmers um actually do better than what they've been subjected to how can they come out of the poverty trap how can they come out of not being in the shackles of the agriculture produced mondays that you mentioned earlier on so long before um the the present term indian government started the started started the government it was actually in the pipeline and many states actually made those rules so that for example if we look at a pepsi pepsi company wanted um potatoes or the crisps or if um any other like wine for the beer or any any other commodities there are there were certain routes but everything was shackled shackled in terms of very rigid regulations and when you look around the world when you look at the agricultural laws of this country modernization is required to meet the need of the other and modernization is something that should be helpful to everyone and this is what the these laws are so if you look back even there are all right there are um newspaper clippings there are video recordings of the many people who are actually objecting to these laws now let's bring sonny in here tripty uh unexceptional in the sense that it's intended to improve productivity take indian agriculture into the modern age so why is it uh politically dangerous do you think for narendra modi to press ahead with this good evening i mean look it's a bit like i think putting a corner shop next to tesco and saying to them you know go and compete against each other there's no doubt that with india's uh you know farm laws and its whole agriculture system needs modernization but the problem is most people who are farmers in india and i think there is an uh there's a strong uk connection here because you have to remember there's 500 000 punjabis in this country and they have very strong family links to punjab that's why they're angry about these uh issues the problem is that you're putting these small businessmen and saying to them go and compete and work with these giant multinationals and what's going to happen what they're going to do is they're going to squeeze the small farmers and i think that's the biggest worry for a lot of them in india and that's why actually there's been so much interest of on this issue even in the uk because you know like i said there's a fight there's a half a million punjabis in this country in canada in the united states and all these people have family links to what's going on in india they're interested in uh you know the political affairs over there but they're interested in what their families how they're being affected by this whole situation and most farmers across the country are saying this is going to be bad for us you're putting us at the mercy of multinational corporations tripty that that's got to be a point hasn't it people will just be rolled under the steamroller of big agribusiness at once these traditional protections are removed well if if you think about it there are 100 over 100 million farmers in india and how many are protesting see what what you got to look at it as well is that it's not just the punjabis who have got the links to the farming there are there are gujaratis there are biharis there are kashmiris there are all sorts of indians all over indians living in this country have farming roots in india so so it is not fair to actually say that only punjabis and if you look at the whole situation out of 100 million farmers if um less than a percent one percent are actually um talking against it then there is some some concern and the government actually talked to them 11 times uh and uh the the the argument been put forward is that you've got to repeal this first now you tell me first is there any government in the world that is when they put a law in with both houses of the parliament without any objections or obstructions uh with all proper process followed then how can a handful of people say that repeal this law no the best thing is really to sit down together to mediate together to go point by point and remove those points that you don't like it there is no agitation is okay but you need to you need to negotiate to achieve something it's not in the interest of the com your country or people or people living abroad like all of us sonny who actually let me bring you in sorry sorry trippy but just picking up on your last point about the need to sit down and negotiate i just wondered to what extent the intercommunal dynamic of this is going to complicate those negotiations because it's obvious looking at the footage that a lot of sikhs are involved in this protest and i wonder to what extent that community feels that these laws are working particularly against their interests well it's not just sikhs who are uh uh getting involved in these protests they've been protests all over the country from the south to the east to the west and the north where punjab is but you know actually what's happening over there is going to have a huge impact over here as well and that's because you know what what the government is doing now is trying to make this into a sikh protest and say that these people are being led by extremists and their sikhs and they're trying to take the government into you know ruin the government and what it's doing is it's turning this whole issue into a sikhs versus hindu issue as a way to delegitimize the protests and that's dangerous because like i said there's five hundred thousand sikhs in this country there's five hundred thousand do you fear violence in this country sunny as a result of this yes if there's violence in india there's going to be violence in this country that's what worries me and i think that we as the government here have a duty to tell the indian government to calm down some of its rhetoric because it's really hate speech over there and it's really dangerous final answer tripty fair point there from sunny a need to cool this atmosphere now well absolutely in a sense that you need to talk both sides need to come on the table both sides need to start talking sense okay i i don't think that in this country we work on on an interfaith level we work on a local level regional level we work with the hindu sikh community is not separated because if you if you look back the roots and roots is in in this anatomy culture as we call it on the subcontinent so i can't see that the two communities could be at the loggerhead what do we need to make not true it's actually happening it's already been happening over the last four years since now what do we need to make sure we finish these pensions i'm sorry i'm sorry we've got to end it there sunny hyundai trip tripty patel i'm so sorry we've just got to end it there we're out of time and if you do want to learn more about the farmers protests you can head to iplayer where the bbc's south asia correspondent rajini vaidyanathan has an in-depth look at how the movement has grown over the past few months

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