India's Modi facing battle on farm Bills as senior minister resigns

Farmers are seen on the third day of a protest against proposed agriculture Bills, near Amritsar, India, on Sept 16, 2020.
Farmers are seen on the third day of a protest against proposed agriculture Bills, near Amritsar, India, on Sept 16, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attempt to push through a series of agriculture Bills is facing staunch opposition from within his own coalition, with a senior minister resigning in protest and farmer demonstrations expected to intensify in the coming days.

Mr Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the food processing minister from the Shiromani Akali Dal party, resigned from Mr Modi's Cabinet in protest against the Bills, which were approved by the lower house amid opposition protests.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) long-time supporter, Shiromani Akali Dal, which rarely goes against the decision of Mr Modi's coalition, has hardened its stance against the Bills that seek to remove restrictions on marketing farm products and allow cultivators to engage with private companies to sell their crops.

The Bills are likely to become law - Mr Modi's government has the numbers - but the wrath of a key ally, opposition party hostility and the threat of farmers protesting on the streets will add to the worries of his administration, which is struggling to check the spread of the coronavirus, resolve a tense border standoff with China, revive the worst economic growth and generate jobs in the country.

Shiramani Akali Dal said it is opposed to the Bills because farmers fear the changes are the first step toward removing the government's guaranteed procurement at minimum prices, forcing them to make distress sales to private companies.

"Akali Dal is a farmers' party. So we have to protect the interests of farmers," said Mr Naresh Gujral, a Member of Parliament from the party, which is based in the agricultural state of Punjab.

He wants the Bills examined by a panel of lawmakers and detailed discussions take place before any parliamentary debates.

There was no immediate comment from the federal government on Mr Kaur's resignation.

Agriculture Investments Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the Bills aimed to give freedom to farmers to sell their outputs and facilitate investment in agriculture sector.

 
 

Opposition lawmakers have said in Parliament the Bills will dilute the country's public procurement system and lead to exploitation by private companies.

Farmers are already protesting to demand the Bills be withdrawn from Parliament.

"More and more people across the country should be told that the ordinances are anti-farmer and protests should spread," said Mr Dharampal Nambardar, a member of the political party Swaraj India. "We will intensify our demonstrations in the coming days."