Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday he would repeal controversial farm laws that farmers have protested for more than a year, a significant climbdown for the combative leader.
The sudden concession on the three laws comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and two other northern states with large rural populations.
“Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said in an address to the nation.
“In the parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws.”
The legislation, introduced in September last year, was aimed at deregulating the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.
Farmers, fearing the overhaul would cut the prices they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from outside India, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and US singer Rihanna.
Modi’s capitulation leaves unresolved a complex system of farm subsidies and price supports that critics say the government cannot afford. It could also raise questions for investors about how economic policy is being overwhelmed by political interests.
Many of the biggest protests are centred around the capital New Delhi, where farmers have been camped by the roadside since last November, demanding the laws’ repeal.
Rakesh Tikait, a farmers’ group leader, said the protests were not being called off. “We will wait for parliament to repeal the laws,” he said on Twitter.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government said last year that there was no question of repealing the laws. It attempted to break the impasse with farmer groups by offering to dilute the legislation, but protracted negotiations failed.