Thousands of farmers are ready to march on the capital, raising an old demand, a guaranteed minimum price for crops Farmers at a protest in Shambhu, Punjab, India, February 16, 2024. © NARINDER NANU / AFP

At 8am at the Shambhu border, a crossing between the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, Daya Singh, 35, fixed his blue headgear and prepared for a day-long sit-in to join hundreds of farmers protesting at the site to demand guaranteed minimum price for crops. Like hundreds of other farmers, he has been sleeping in his tractor trolley for the last five days after volunteering for different tasks at the protest.

“We are forced to hit the streets. we want protection for our crops,” Singh told RT.

This comes at a crucial juncture in India, as the general election, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is expected to win a third term, is approaching in a few months.

The farmers’ vote will have an impact. Agriculture employs around 58% of the country’s population and accounts for about 18.3% of India’s GDP at current prices. Its market size is estimated at $372.94 billion in 2024, and is expected to reach $473.72 billion by 2029. India is the world’s second largest producer of wheat, rice, and sugar.

RTRT

Farmers shout slogans as they staged a demonstration in support of farmers, protesting at Shambhu near the Punjab-Haryana state border over minimum price for their crops, on the outskirts of Amritsar on February 17, 2024. © Narinder NANU / AFP

Old Promises

This is the second time since 2020 that thousands of north Indian farmers are on the roads urging the federal government to fulfill their demands, mainly legislation that would guarantee a minimum sale price (MSP) for 23 crops.

More than 200 farmers’ unions are supporting the protest, saying the government has not made progress on its promises made in 2021 regarding their demands.

In 2020-21, a 13-month-long agitation forced the ruling BJP government to repeal three farm laws that it justified as modernization of the agriculture sector. The farmers resisted the move with a lengthy agitation, fearing domination by corporate players.

While repealing the laws to end the agitation, the government in December 2021 said it would try to find ways to ensure support prices for all produce. Farmers say this has not been fulfilled yet. This has forced them to launch a new protest march, according to Singh, who grows multiple crops and owns 12 acres of farmland in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.

“A farmer like me whose livelihood for generations is dependent on crops wants some financial security. We see an uncertain future,” he told RT, adding that the government should not stop the march to the capital, New Delhi, and allow them to proceed.

RTRT

Tractors and trolleys of farmers are parked on a highway during an ongoing protest to demand minimum crop prices, near the Punjab-Haryana state border at Shambhu in Patiala district on February 17, 2024. © SHAMMI MEHRA / AFP

Singh justified the protest by saying the country is dependent on farmers and their welfare is paramount to the country’s progress. “We came here leaving our families because our situation is distressed.”

Another farmer, Harpreet Singh from Hoshiarpur in Punjab, said the government must honor its promise to double their incomes. “Why can’t farmers demand a decent life and income?”

“The market rate of crops has increased just 2-3 times in the last three decades and if we see other produce in the market, everything is getting expensive each year,” he said, adding that the government is suppressing the farmers under loans and debt that they demanded be waived.

Harpreet said the costs of cultivation have jumped while incomes have not seen any improvement. “The government must ensure that the farmers make a good profit on the crops.”

March to Delhi

The farmers began the latest protest on February 13, when thousands from Punjab and Haryana arrived in their tractors at the highway connecting the two states to march to New Delhi.

The protesters were stopped at the Shambhu border between Punjab and Haryana, around 230km from New Delhi, by the Haryana authorities, who sealed the border with metal and cemented barricades and stationed hundreds of police and paramilitary troopers to guard the entry points. Though the protesters are stuck at a distance from New Delhi, the border between Haryana and the capital city was similarly barricaded, which led to traffic jams in New Delhi – something which has not made residents of the city sympathetic to the farmers’ cause.

Indian farmers deploy kites against police drones Indian farmers deploy kites against police drones

The police used drones to drop tear gas canisters on protesters attempting to march to New Delhi. Dozens were injured, some of whom are being treated in Punjab hospitals.

“This government is trying to suppress us using force but we will not be silenced,” said a farmer from Haryana, declining to be identified. “Our children are leaving India for foreign countries because they do not see a future in farming or related sectors here. We are losing our identity.”

With the Punjab diaspora so large and widesp

He emphasized that rushing into enacting a law to guarantee minimum prices for crops without consulting all stakeholders would not be feasible. He has also urged protesting farmers to remain vigilant and cautious of certain elements that might seek to exploit their movement for political gains, thereby tarnishing its integrity.

Another round of talks between the farmers and the government will be held on Sunday. The future course of action will be decided after the leaders return from the talks and consult with the farmers.

Sukhdev Singh, a farmer from Amritsar, said the farmers’ lives would drastically change if they were guaranteed financial security. “This is a peaceful protest,” Sukhdev said, adding that they are talking to the government and want to find a solution. “This is not the issue of Punjab. This is for the farmers of all the country.”

At the protest site, while eating paratha (a form of bread) and dal (a lentil-based dish) prepared by the volunteers, Paranjeet, a protester from Haryana, said the crowd will continue to swell with each day. “This country is fed by us and we cannot be ignored,” he said with a smile.

By Rifat Fareed, an independent journalist in India