India’s farmers call off protests, for now, after government agrees to additional demands

NEW DELHI — Thousands of farmers who had been occupying the outskirts of India’s capital called off their protest Thursday and claimed victory after reaching a deal with the government that would see the formation of a committee to consider guaranteed prices for crops and criminal charges against protesters dropped.

The announcement marked the end — for now — of a bitter, year-long mass movement opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to liberalize India’s agricultural sector, which produces a perennial surplus of crops. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that the new laws would make the market more efficient and allow some buyers and growers to access the sector. However, the overhaul was met with stiff resistance from northern farmers who saw the reform as an invitation to multinational conglomerates. They remained on New Delhi’s highways to protest the law’s repeal.

Modi relented last month and said he would nix the three laws in a rare setback for the Indian leader, who faces crucial elections in several agricultural states in 2022. However, farmers pledged to stay in their camps until they introduced additional subsidies and brought criminal charges against them.

In a statement issued Thursday by the Ministry of Agriculture, the government said India’s security agencies had agreed to drop cases against farmers and a new committee would consider how to set minimum support prices for crops.

The farmers, while exultant, said they would wait until this weekend to hold a celebration and then head home. Many people suggested that the struggle for their minimum support price may not end so soon. The Indian Farmers’ Union said in a statement Thursday that “we have won this fight, but we will keep protesting until we succeed in getting a law on the minimum support price.”

Harinder Kaur Bindu, head of the union’s women’s wing, said by telephone from the tent city in Tikri, on Delhi’s city limits, that the farmers may very well be back in the coming weeks and months if the government shows any sign of backtracking on its promises.

“As we know how this government has behaved in the past, we are still skeptics about its sincerity,” she said. “We’re mentally prepared for another round of protests.”

Shams Irfan in Chandigarh, India, contributed to this report.

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