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Indian farmers press on with protest

By Aparajit Chakraborty in New Delhi | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-24 07:23

Farmers listen to a speaker, at a protest site during the march towards New Delhi to push for better crop prices promised to them in 2021, at Shambhu Barrier, the border between Punjab and Haryana states, India February 23, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Indian farmer protesters face hardship in their stated march to the capital city following the death of a young protester on Thursday and failure of talks with the government as Prime Minister Narendra Modi busied himself elsewhere in the country.

Protesting farmers have been camping at border points of Punjab and Haryana states since Feb 13, along with tractors, minivans and pickup trucks. Their leaders could unveil action plans after discussions on Friday night.

The death of the young protester, cited by the Times of India as the fifth during the ongoing protest, resulted from police action, the farmers' union said.

The victim, identified as Subhkaran Singh, had bullet injuries on his head during a clash with police at Khanauri, a town near the Punjab-Haryana border, and later died in a hospital, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, a leader of the protest, told China Daily. The farmers claimed that Haryana police fired rubber bullets, apart from tear gas.

Haryana police, however, have denied the claim, stating that it was a rumor.

Khanauri, around 180 kilometers from New Delhi, connects Punjab and Haryana, whose shared borders have become protest sites for farmers attempting to reach New Delhi. The majority of protesting farmers are from these two states.

Thousands of farmers on tractors launched what they call "Delhi Chalo", or "March to Delhi", last week to demand a law to fix minimum prices for their crops, in addition to other concessions including the waiving of loans.

Indian Sikh warriors, some on horseback, gathered on Thursday to protect farmers stalled by fearsome police barricades, Agence France-Presse reported.

Fifth round of talks

Federal Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda called for a fifth round of talks with the farmers and advocated for peace.

"We want to go to Delhi in a peaceful manner. The government should remove the barricades," farmer Ramveer Singh said.

"In 2014, before the national election, Modi had assured that if his party came to government, the MSP would be ensured. But still the federal government did not meet our demand," said Chaduni, referring to the minimum support price.

The farmers rejected a government proposal that offered them five-year contracts of guaranteed prices on a set of certain crops, including maize, grain legumes and cotton.

Karori Singh, former director and emeritus fellow of the South Asia Studies Centre at the University of Rajasthan, said as elections are close, the government may fulfill some main demands during the next round of negotiations to pacify and satisfy the farming community.

Jayati Ghosh, a development economist, said it is only when the price drops below the MSP that the government would need to step in and buy just enough that the price rises above the minimum set bar.

"Many large corporations can get away with all kinds of loan waivers, but the farmers are asking a small fraction of that and are treated as criminals," Ghosh said.

Meanwhile, Modi launched a number of development projects in Varanasi city on Friday, the Press Trust of India reported.

Answering a question on the farmers' protest, Modi said his government was focusing on improving the lives of small farmers through various schemes and initiatives. Modi is seeking a record third term in office during the upcoming April and May elections.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily. Vivien Xu in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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