ghosh29_Yawar NazirGetty Images_india farmers Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

Farmers vs. the Indian State

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government apparently thinks that the huge open-air farmers’ protests outside Delhi may fizzle out in due course. But the farmers’ resolve, and their widespread public support, suggest that this time could be different.

NEW DELHI – India’s capital is under siege from more than two million farmers, who are currently gathered at the city’s border in a massive protest that started two weeks ago. Old and young men, women, and even children from farming families are camping on open roads in the bitter cold of a Delhi winter. They have abandoned their concerns about viral infection and come prepared for the long haul, bringing enough food to last for several months.

The movement began when several thousand farmers from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana drove their tractors toward Delhi in the hope of publicizing their grievances in the city’s center. The protests subsequently swelled as more farmers arrived from other states, and show no sign of dissipating. More than 500 farmers’ organizations across India are supporting the protesters’ demands, and the farmers’ calls for “Bharat Bandh,” or a national shutdown, on December 8 garnered widespread support from trade unions and several opposition parties.

The immediate trigger for the protests was the government’s hasty enactment of three new farm laws, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic without consulting stakeholders, like the farmers themselves, or state governments, which are responsible for agriculture under India’s Constitution.