Confrontation leaves nine dead . . .
The months-long stand-off between the Indian government and farmers protesting a set of agricultural laws escalated on Sunday, leaving nine people dead in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The incident happened in the Lakhimpur Kheri district, where protesters had gathered to block a visit by Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, who represents the district, and a state minister. A car owned by Mishra reportedly hit and killed four farmers. Mishra’s son was allegedly in the vehicle – an allegation he denies. The driver and three passengers, who were members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were killed in the violence that followed. A journalist for a pro-BJP news network was also found dead at the scene. The protesters have clashed recently with Mishra and his supporters, with Mishra telling the farmers, “Behave, or we will teach you how to behave.”
Irreconcilable views . . .
The farmers’ protests began shortly after India’s parliament passed three Farm Bills in September 2020. The government says the laws will modernize the country’s agricultural system, which it says is wasteful, and will boost production through private investment. The protesters counter that the laws, by ending guaranteed pricing, will undercut their earnings and force them to sell at lowered prices. The Supreme Court suspended the laws’ enactment in January in response to the growing protest movement. If the laws are allowed to proceed, they will impact roughly 55 per cent of Indians who rely on farming for their livelihood.
Harbinger of further violence?
Sunday was not the first time these confrontations have turned violent, but they could mark a turning point. The farmers said they will intensify their protests and are planning rallies in the lead-up to next year’s state elections in Uttar Pradesh. The state, which has a population of 241 million, is considered a ‘bellwether’ of the BJP’s political standing. Its Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, also from the BJP, is an ardent supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi says he has no intention of being cowed by the protesters. Adityanath’s government is overseeing the investigation into Sunday’s violence. Its findings could be a catalyst for more violence.