Nov. 19 (UPI) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise, nationally televised announcement on Friday to say that he’s withdrawing a set of controversial agriculture laws that have spurred major protests from farmers and inflicted a blow on Modi’s popularity.
The laws were passed and implemented last year, when Modi said they established much-needed reforms to modernize and stabilize India’s agricultural sector.
Farmers, however, have opposed the “black laws” — saying that they effectively forced them to begin selling their crops as lower prices and threaten their livelihoods. They also bar farmers from seeking relief in court.
During the televised address Friday, Modi said that the laws will be repealed by the end of November.
The decision is one of Modi’s most significant policy reversals since he took office seven years ago.
“While apologizing to the nation, I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that maybe something was lacking in our efforts that we could not explain the truth to some of our farmer brothers,” Modi said in his address.
“Let us make a fresh start.”
One of the main effects of the reforms is that they shifting the sale of farm goods to a free market and ended guaranteed pricing. Farmers protested the laws in great numbers, arguing that their lives basically are left at mercy of big corporations.
In some of the protests, Indian farmers blocked roadways with tractors and boulders and squatted along highways.
The agriculture laws, however, have cost Modi politically with the farming community. Some observers see his move Friday as, at least in part, a bid to win back some political capital.
Modi’s move came ahead of key elections that are approaching in some areas of India, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
“This is about Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections and the fact that a decision that brought farmers to the streets kept them there for an entire year,” one analyst told NDTV.
It’s estimated that farmers represent almost 60% of India’s population of about 1.4 billion.