Indian justice interferes in agricultural crisis

It is a deceptive and temporary victory for the Indian peasants. The Supreme Court decided, Tuesday, January 12, to suspend the three government reforms which have aroused the anger of the agricultural world for forty-nine days.

Thousands of peasants, mainly from the states of Punjab and Haryana, the two most important producers of rice and wheat in India, have been blocking since November 26, 2020, several access highways to New Delhi to demand the withdrawal of these texts liberalizing the marketing of agricultural products, adopted on September 20 by Parliament without any prior consultation with the agricultural unions. They have set up two gigantic camps at the gates of the capital and neither the winter cold nor the Covid-19 pandemic, have weakened their determination to bend the government.

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“We are suspending the application of the three agricultural laws until further notice”, announced in person the president of India’s highest court, Sharad Arvind Bobde, who also decided to set up a committee of four experts to facilitate mediation between the peasants and the government and try to resolve the conflict. He will be responsible for“Listen to the complaints of farmers, the views of the government and make recommendations”.

The Supreme Court had been seized by the police, at the request of the government, to prevent a demonstration in tractors of the peasants in the capital, on the national day, January 26.

Government in trouble

Farmers burn copies of recent agricultural reforms and a photo of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Amritsar on January 9.

The decision of the Supreme Court may seem surprising as the high court has followed step by step, in recent months, the executive on the most contested reforms, in particular that on nationality, but also in the conflict around the construction of a Hindu temple instead of a mosque in Ayodhya.

But for most observers, the judges are, in fact, rushing to the aid of the government in difficulty vis-a-vis the peasants. “The Court seeks, perhaps unintentionally but in a prejudicial manner, to break the momentum of a social movement”, warns Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the daily Indian Express. This respected political scientist accuses Indian justice of playing politics. He believes that the high court has left its role by proposing mediation instead of ruling on the merits: the constitutionality of the three laws.

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Discussions with the government were completely deadlocked, despite eight rounds of negotiations. The peasants demand the outright withdrawal of three disputed laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi refuses to do so, arguing that this reform will improve farmers’ incomes. The government tried to delegitimize their movement by calling it “anti-national” and accusing it of being in Pakistan’s pay.

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