“Today I come to tell the whole country that we have decided to withdraw the three agricultural laws,” Modi said in a speech to the nation, adding that the process will be completed in a parliamentary session later this month.
Modi recognized the importance of farmers and the challenges they have faced. He said it was a priority issue for his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“In this great campaign to improve the condition of farmers, three agricultural laws were introduced in the country,” Modi said.
“This law was introduced with good intentions,” he continued, adding that despite its efforts, the government could not “make (farmers) understand the importance of agricultural laws.”
Farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan’s national vice president, Deepak Lamba, said Modi’s announcement “can be seen as a great victory for farmers,” but added that the government has repealed the laws because of “political compulsions.”
“The government has taken this step, taking into account the upcoming (state) elections,” he said.
In India, agriculture is a central political issue and the protests posed a unique challenge to the BJP.
Seven Indian states will hold elections early next year to determine whether Modi’s BJP will retain power. His ruling party currently governs six of the seven states, including the predominantly agricultural Uttar Pradesh.
Farmers are the largest voting bloc in the country and the agricultural sector sustains about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion citizens. Angry farmers could cause Modi to lose a considerable amount of votes.
Modi’s announcement came on Gur Purab, the anniversary of the birth of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak. Sikhism is the dominant religion in the northern state of Punjab, which is ruled by the opposition Congress Party and is considered the granary of India for its great agricultural strength.
However, some farmer groups vowed to keep up the pressure.
“The protests will not be withdrawn immediately,” Indian Farmers Union leader Rakesh Tikait wrote on Twitter.
“We will wait for the day when the agricultural laws are repealed in Parliament.”
Farmers group Samyukt Kisan Morcha welcomed the repeal of what they described as “black laws against farmers and pro-businesses” in a statement on Friday, but said it would also wait for the announcement to take effect in Parliament.
“If this happens, it will be a historic victory of the one-year farmers’ struggle in India,” the group said.
For more than a year, Indian farmers have fought against all three laws, which they said left them exposed to exploitation by large corporations and could destroy their livelihoods. The laws, which were passed last September, relaxed rules on the sale and price of produce that have protected farmers from an unregulated free market for decades.
Under previous laws, farmers had to sell their produce at an auction at their state Farm Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to receive at least the minimum price agreed by the government. There were restrictions on who could buy and prices were limited to basic goods.
The new laws dismantled this structure, instead allowing farmers to sell their produce to anyone for any price. The government said the reforms were necessary to modernize the country’s agricultural industry, but many farmers argued that they would allow large corporations to lower prices.
In mid-January, the Supreme Court of India temporarily suspended the laws. But Modi was unable to quell the protests, and some farmers vowed not to leave until the laws were completely repealed.