India Farm Protests Gather Momentum After 4 Demonstrators Killed
(Bloomberg) -- India’s yearlong farmers’ protests against federal agricultural laws have reached a new flash-point after eight people, including four protesters, were killed in the poll bound northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Farm groups have alleged the deaths occurred Sunday after a convoy of cars connected to a junior federal minister ran over angry demonstrators, fired shots and attacked a protest leader in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of the state. Four others were also killed in the violence, according to news reports citing a local official.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting the new laws since they were passed last September. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party remained largely unscathed by the push-back in the early months, the latest escalation comes at a crucial time for the leader as his popularity is the lowest it’s been in seven years, dented by a devastating wave of Covid-19 infections in April and May.
It also comes as Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically crucial state, is gearing up for elections. Farmers represent a potentially huge constituency: Some 60% of India’s 1.3 billion depend on agriculture in one way or another.
This is the second time violence has marred the largely peaceful protests. Police and protesters had clashed in New Delhi in January. State police have imposed a curfew around the protest site. They have also barred opposition leaders from visiting the area. A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Protests against the new laws had gathered pace in November when groups of demonstrators began camping on the borders of New Delhi demanding that the laws be repealed. Several rounds of talks between the protesters and the government have failed to break the impasse.
Farmers’ groups say the new legislation favors big companies over small landholders. Modi’s administration has defended the laws, saying they will eliminate cartels that exploited farmers and would ultimately boost incomes by making the agricultural sector more competitive.
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