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In India, Farmers Got Modi Elected. Could They Now Be His Downfall?

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BangaloreOn February 20, an estimated 50,000 agricultural workers donned red pointed caps, or topis, and began a 110-mile protest march through the state of Maharashtra, in west-central India. Landless laborers, members of tribal communities, and farming families traveled from village to village singing traditional songs. The All India Kisan Sabh (AIKS), a 16-million-member peasant-led coalition organized the protest, and hoped the journey would deliver a message to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party: After years of broken promises, it was time for the government to meet their demands.

For more than a decade, smallholder farmers had called for a one-time waiver on their loans and for the government to raise the minimum-support price for crops.

Many of India’s farmers have endured long periods of drought and been saddled with crippling loans from predatory lenders. More than half of India’s 90.2 million farming households are stuck in cycles of debt. Over the last 20 years, official records have logged more than 300,000 farmer suicides. The statistics show the rates steadily rising before the government suddenly stopped reporting the numbers after 2016.

From summer 2017 and into this year, there have been a series of farmer rallies that have drawn tens of thousands of protesters. But with the national elections that go from April 11 to May 19, agricultural workers are seizing the moment use their votes as leverage to extract concessions.

“For the first time, the agrarian crisis has come to the center stage. No political party is able to ignore it,” said AIKS Joint Secretary Vijoo Krishnan in an airy, bright coalition office belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Bangalore. “The government feels now that the peasantry are rising up and their own position in power is shaky. They’re forced to pay attention.”

Farmers were a big part of the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. In 2014, Modi swept to power with almost half of the landowning farmers vote after he promised to double their incomes within five years. But shortly after Modi came into office, official statements conveniently pushed this lofty goal forward to 2022. Farmers say little has changed for them since Modi took office, and agricultural workers still overwhelmingly earn less than the legal minimum wage.

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Thanks !

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