12/01/2018, 15.19
INDIA
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Burdened by debt, thousands of peasants invade Delhi as Modi’s popularity sags

More than 50,000 farmers take part in the biggest march in recent years. Since 2013, about 12,000 farmers have committed suicide. Prime Minister Modi is at risk in the 2019 elections. Opposition parties try to ride the wave of protests, putting pressure on the government.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Tens of thousands of farmers blocked roads in India's capital on Friday demanding debt waivers and better prices for their crops. In all, more than 50,000 people from across the country marched towards India's Parliament.

Protesters included friends and relatives of thousands of farmers who committed suicide in recent years because they could not repay their debts.

Chanting "Down with Modi", they put on the biggest show of dissent and frustration since the prime minister took office in 2014.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), umbrella organization of 200 groups of farmers, organised the demonstration.

Yogendra Yadav, the president of Swaraj India and one of the working group members of AIKSCC, said that the protest was “one of the biggest marches” of farmers in recent times.

Farmers’ demands have not been heeded for years. A similar march was held in Mumbai last March; in that case, the local government promised to end farm debts to prevent suicides.

Now farmers have raised the ante and turned on the Indian prime minister, slamming Modi for betraying voters over the promises he made in 2014.

Under pressure, Mr Modi earlier this year approved a 50 per cent return over the cost of production. However, the prices of rice, beans and sunflower seeds are still below the government-set rates.

Indian farmers earned about 360 billion rupees (US$ 5.15 billion) less last crop season due to lower market prices of commodities than what they would have received by selling at government-set minimum purchase prices, Mr Saha of Swaraj Abhiyan said.

About 800 million people of India's 1.3 billion depend directly or indirectly on farming, with agriculture accounting for about 16 per cent of the economy, which is led by the service sector.

Under the weight of debts, 12,000 farmers have killed themselves since 2013.  At least 300,000 farmers have killed themselves since 1995.

"In 14 years, Parliament has not found the time to have a discussion on those reports," says P. Sainath, founder of the People's Archive of Rural India, which publishes reports about farmers and supports their efforts to organise.

However, experts believe Modi will be forced to do so, as the general elections of 2019 looms. Opposition leaders in fact are already going after him. Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal joined protesters yesterday.

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