Hundreds of thousands of farmers have gathered in India’s most populous state, the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations to press Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to repeal three new agricultural laws.
More than 500,000 farmers attended Sunday’s rally in northern Uttar Pradesh state’s Muzaffarnagar district, according to local police.
Chanting “farmer-labourer, unity!”, the men and women wore yellow and green scarves, signifying harvest and mustard fields while waving national and farmer union flags.
The demonstration in Uttar Pradesh, a predominantly agricultural state that is home to 240 million people, will breathe fresh life into the protest movement, said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader.
“We’ll intensify our protest by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh to convey the message that Modi’s government is anti-farmer,” he added.
Over the past eight months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped on main highways to the capital New Delhi to oppose the laws, in India’s longest-running farmer’ protest against the government.
The measures, introduced last September, allow farmers to directly sell their produce outside government-regulated wholesale markets to big buyers. The government says this will unshackle farmers and help them get better prices.
Farmers, however, say the legislation will hurt their livelihood and leave them with scant bargaining power against big private retailers and food processors.
Farming is a vast sector that sustains almost half of India’s more than 1.3 billion population and accounts for about 15 percent of the country’s $2.7 trillion economy.
Balbir Singh Rajewal, another farmers’ leader, said Sunday’s rally was a warning for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which hopes to retain power early next year in state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, often seen as a barometer of the popularity of the federal government.
“Our message is very clear – either repeal the laws or face defeat in the state election,” he said.