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Indian farmers vow to maintain roadblocks until Modi drops agriculture 'reforms'

INDIAN farmers vowed today to continue blockading major roads in Punjab and Haryana until the government withdraws three recent laws opening agriculture up to global agribusiness giants.

Jaskaran Singh of the Kisan (“farmers”) Union said it the protesters had declined an offer of talks from the Narendra Modi government and were holding out for the total defeat of the laws.

Mr Singh said offers from Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Home Minister Amit Shah for negotiations if the farmers agreed to move their protests to a designated area were probably just a ruse to get them to stop blocking the motorways.

He noted that the Prime Minister reiterated yesterday the government’s determination to maintain its “reforms,” which Mr Modi said “unshackle our farmers but also give them new rights and opportunities.”

Mr Singh retorted: “We want the farm laws to be scrapped, that’s all,” and added that more road blockades were being organised in other Indian states.

Saturday saw rallies of thousands of farmers in New Delhi against the laws. Effigies of Mr Modi were burned and protesters chanted: “Down with Modi.” The protests were allowed to enter New Delhi after standoffs with police at the capital’s border with Haryana on Friday, when officers tried to drive them off with water canon and baton charges.

And many farmers took part in the general strike organised last Thursday, which opposed the Modi government’s agenda of privatisation and anti-worker laws.

The farm laws, which the Communist Party of India-Marxist and Congress party say were forced through parliament without proper debate in September, allow the private stockpiling of food — a right formerly reserved to state institutions, which farmers say will allow hoarding and speculation in food prices. They deregulate the sale of food across state borders.

They lift price controls on many basic foodstuffs, including rice, wheat, lentils, cotton, edible oils and onions, raising fears that agribusiness will dictate prices to producers — currently guaranteed prices set by the state — while also raising them for consumers in order to maximise profit. India’s communists warn that the consequences for food security will be severe.

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