This is a rare climbdown from the prime minister. But the space for dissent is still diminishing under his government
It is not often that Narendra Modi gives a televised address to the nation and it is met with relief, not disarray. The Indian prime minister’s previous frightening acts of decisiveness have included announcing a complete lockdown with just four hours’ notice last year, and withdrawing 85% of the country’s currency overnight in 2016.
This most recent on-screen address went another way entirely. When Modi announced his government’s intention to withdraw three controversial farm laws after one of the most prolonged periods of protest ever recorded in India, in which hundreds died in the face of state violence, it was met with mass jubilation. The laws – originally passed during a chaotic voice vote in parliament last year, when the television broadcast was muted so viewers could not hear the opposition – were seen as tools to encourage the corporatisation of agriculture and weaken state protections for farmers. Backed by the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist Gita Gopinath, the US state department, rightwing economists and a large section of India’s pro-Modi, pro-industry media, the laws faced mass opposition among Indians – almost half of whom, according to the most recent census, work in farming.
Rukmini S is a data journalist based in Chennai, India