Indian protestes towards agriculture reforms appeal to new supporters

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© Reuters. A farmer sitting in a tractor loaded with sugarcane waits to offload the crop outside a sugar factory in Baghpat

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By Devjyot Ghoshal

BHAINSWAL, India (Reuters) – Thousands of farmers in a politically important Indian state on Friday rallied in opposition to new agricultural laws, signalling growing support for a months-long campaign to have the government reforms scrapped.

Angry at what they see as legislation that benefits private buyers at the expense of growers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, for more than two months, calling for the withdrawal of laws introduced in September.

Much of the initial support for the protests has come from rice and wheat growers from northern India, particularly opposition-ruled Punjab state.

But in a sign of a growing challenge to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, thousands of farmers rallied on Friday in Uttar Pradesh state to show their support for the protests.

“Everybody here is going to join the movement,” said Jitendra Singh, 55, a sugarcane farmer at the rally in Bhainswal village.

Hundreds of police, many armed and wearing riot gear, stood by but there was no trouble.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest state and a critical battleground state in elections.

While Modi’s party commands a comfortable majority in parliament, the support for the protests from Uttar Pradesh’s politically influential sugarcane farmers will be a worry.

The farmers say the laws mean the end of long-standing support prices for their crops and will leave them vulnerable to the whims of big buyers. They are demanding that the laws be annulled.

The government says reform of the inefficient agriculture sector will open up new opportunities for farmers and while it has offered some concessions, it has ruled out withdrawing the laws.

The protests have been largely peaceful but flared into turmoil on Jan. 26 as some farmers clashed with police in New Delhi and one person was killed and hundreds were injured.

To the government’s annoyance the protests have drawn increasing international scrutiny, with celebrities including pop star Rihanna and environment campaigner Greta Thunberg announcing their support for the farmers.

(This story refiles to fix spelling of “protests” in headline)

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