SITUATION UPDATE BRIEF: INDIA – AGRICULTURAL REFORM BILLS WILL CONTINUE TO DRIVE MASS PROTESTS

Key Takeaways

The passage of agricultural sector reforms by parliament has resulted in a wave of protests across India, organised by opposition parties and farmers unions. Many believe that the changes to the system will not ultimately benefit small-scale farmers.

So far, demonstrations have been largely concentrated in the states of Punjab and Haryana, resulting in disruption and some clashes between police and protesters. Further protests are planned in order to pressure the president into not signing the bills into law, with various rallies scheduled for 25 September, and the Indian Congress Party planning to organise marches nationwide on 2 October.

While the unrest has the potential to cause widespread disruption, given the sizeable portion of the population that the changes could impact, we do not expect the government to allow violence at the level that was experienced during the Delhi riots in February.

Context and Background

Two controversial agricultural reform bills were passed in the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha) on 20 September, with only the formality of President Ram Nath Kovind’s approval needed for them to become law. The parliamentary session was chaotic, as opposition parties criticised the decision not to send the bills to a parliamentary committee in line with typical procedure. Events escalated within parliament, with the episode leading to eight MPs being suspended for ‘unruly behaviour’ as they protested the passing of the bills.

Farmer groups have also strongly expressed opposition to the bills, arguing that the reforms threaten the livelihoods of those with smaller farms, as the relaxation of the rules controlling how agricultural produce is priced and sold will allow larger private companies to enter the market…

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