Tens of thousands of farmers across India took to the streets Tuesday during a nationwide strike demanding the scrapping of new agricultural laws, intensifying an almost fortnight long standoff with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The daylong shutdown, called by several farm groups, impacted traffic and movement in some parts of the country. Wholesale agricultural markets in Mumbai and Delhi were shut, while highways were blocked in some states such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, according to news reports.
Borders connecting the capital New Delhi with the northern Uttar Pradesh and Haryana states remained closed causing traffic snarls. Farmers have been camping out at these border points for a 13th day Tuesday and thousands of police and paramilitary troops have been mobilized to prevent the protesters from entering the Indian capital.
Farmers’ representatives and senior federal ministers are slated to meet again Wednesday to break the deadlock that has become a significant problem confronting Modi’s government. About 800 million of the country’s over 1.3 billion people depend directly or indirectly on agriculture, giving the group considerable political clout.
Several rounds of talks between the two sides have remained inconclusive so far. About a dozen opposition parties are supporting the nationwide shutdown.
“There has been support and solidarity from a lot of sections of the society,” said Avik Saha, organizing secretary of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, adding about 2.5 million people across the country are on the road to make the shutdown successful. “It’s small versus big. It’s widespread.”
The three new laws seek to remove restrictions on marketing farm products and allow cultivators to engage with private companies to sell their crops, which farmers fear will prompt the government to stop making direct purchases at minimum state-set prices. Farmers argue the laws will hurt their incomes and make farming in India harder, while the government says the reforms will lead to prosperity.
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