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Indian opposition backs farmers, demands repeal of new agricultural bill

By News Desk, with agency report

Calls by farmers across India for a repeal of newly passed laws considered to whittle down farmers’ fortune have been bolstered after the country’s main opposition Congress Party called on the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi-led cabinet to withdraw new agricultural laws.

The party said that it had become imperative for the central government to call a special parliamentary session to repeal new laws that farmers claimed would leave them at the mercy of big corporations.

The support by the opposition was coming after farmers across India begun a 24-hour relay hunger strike on Monday to protest against new agriculture bills as part of measures aimed at forcing government to consider plight of primary workers in the agricultural sector.

The hunger strike, farmers’ leaders claimed, was to step up pressure on the nation’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to repeal three agricultural reform laws considered to whittle down farmers’ fortune.

However, a senior leader from the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, on Thursday handed the president a copy of a petition that he said had attracted 20 million signatures online.

“The prime minister wants to help two, three business people” by introducing the farm laws, said Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s founding prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The government says the reforms passed in September are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and open up the market.

Tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on national highways for weeks demanding the government withdraw the laws that they fear will eventually dismantle regulated markets and stop the government buying wheat and rice at guaranteed prices.

Six rounds of talks between government officials and farmer union leaders have failed to resolve the deadlock. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week offered to “very humbly” hold further discussions.

On Thursday, the government again invited protesting farmers to further talks. Farmers union leaders have accused the government of trying to weaken and discredit them by describing protesting farmers as “anti-nationals”.

“You are dealing with protesting farmers in a manner as if they are not aggrieved citizens but political rivals,” Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, a coalition of farmers unions, said in a letter addressed to the farm ministry on Thursday.

“Farmers would be compelled to intensify their agitation further for their survival if the government continued to treat them in this manner,” the letter said.

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