A revolt by hundreds of thousands of farmers has taken India by storm. The farmers are incensed at the deregulation of India’s agricultural sector, a move seen to benefit the food companies of the Adani Group at the expense of local producers. Tens of thousands of people from distant communities have travelled to the outskirts of Delhi in a mass movement that has rocked the Indian capital and brought traffic on major thoroughfares to a standstill. The organisers of the march, known locally as Dilli Chalo (Go to Delhi), have called for the government of Narendra Modi to repeal the new farming laws. With Modi digging in, a community boycott of the products of the Adani Group has kicked off.
The Modi government’s response to the mass movement has been heavy-handed, with protesters blasted by water cannons, smothered in tear gas or beaten by police. An image of an armoured paramilitary policeman about to strike an elderly farmer with his truncheon now emblemises the protest after going viral. Defending the farmers’ right to demonstrate peacefully, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked an international incident, with India withdrawing from a joint India-Canada event and then calling in Canada’s envoy for a carpeting.
Entry points into Delhi from some adjacent states have been barricaded, disrupting travel in the region. Further marches have been planned, with moves to block more major highways into Delhi.
Meanwhile, protesting farmers have accused the Modi government of doing the bidding of the Adani Group and other companies that would profit from the new farming laws. The Adani Group is developing businesses in the food industry that would benefit from the widespread deregulation of the agricultural sector. They have been accused of building new railway lines and siloes for the purposes of transporting and storing grain that, under the new laws, can be bought directly from farmers that have become vulnerable to the purchasing clout of big corporates. Farmers have protested outside at least one silo of the Adani Group.
The Adani Group has responded by asking the Modi government to crack down with the ‘utmost severity’ on organisers of the twitterstorm directed against its businesses.
‘Various organisations with vested interests are targeting Indian business houses,’ said a letter from the Adani Group to the Modi Government seen by various media outlets. ‘Hashtags such as #FundFarmersNotCoal #AusVsInd were used to ignite tensions in the digital community.’
There’s no doubt that the Adani Group has been spooked by the vehemence of the criticisms against it. Farmers in the north-western city of Amritsar have burnt effigies of Gautam Adani, Narendra Modi and Mukesh Ambani, and protesters manning the barricades on the outskirts of Delhi have threatened to burn more. A boycott of the Group's retail products by such a massive demographic must be a huge concern. The hashtag #BoycottAmbaniAdani is generating heavy traffic.
In brief, farming communities are angry at the BJP government of Narendra Modi because:
- They say the new laws leave farmers at the mercy of big corporates and pave the way for the end of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for agricultural products that has been enshrined in the system for decades.
- They say that corporates such as Adani will have an upper hand in fixing prices and resolving disputes in the courts.
- They that say small farmers will be left in the lurch as big corporates wouldn't want to deal with them, putting pressure on farmers to sell their properties and lose traditional livelihoods.
The farmers have the support of various small companies, middlemen and state governments that benefit from the regulations that will be overturned by the new farming laws.