Indian Agricultural Development
Modi’s Big Farm Fight

Modi’s got a problem. The next big phase in his economic reform agenda requires passing a bill that would make it easier for industry to buy land on a large scale. But India’s rural farmers, normally part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist political base, are broadly opposing it. More than a dozen of them have committed suicide, including one who hanged himself in the center of New Delhi, in a dramatic act of protest that has turned the farm bill into a red hot political issue. In the midst of this firestorm, voting on the bill is being delayed. Reuters reports:

Two cabinet ministers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the land acquisition bill, a revision to a 2013 land law, would not be brought up until the first week of May, reversing a previous line-up of legislative business.

“The land bill is a challenge for us,” one of the ministers said late on Wednesday, after several days of protests that culminated in the suicide.

Convinced that the previous land law would delay his industrial development agenda, Modi used executive decrees in December and April to loosen acquisition rules requiring 80 percent consent from landowners, but needs parliament’s approval to make the changes permanent.

The bill would permit industrial interests to make large-scale land purchases if they can get an 80 percent buy-in from the current property holders. It’s meant to encourage a shift from small-scale agriculture to a primarily industrialized system of farming. Reforms like this, along with Modi’s efforts to end government fuel subsidies, could be a key to creating and sustaining a period of hoped-for economic growth. Yet effecting these changes isn’t easy, especially given India’s entrenched rural culture.

Modi’s twin identities of liberal economic reformer and Hindu nationalist firebrand seem to be creating a lot of tension these days; this week brought another conflict, between Modi and the Hindu temples whose gold he’d like to bring out of the vaults and into the country’s monetary system. In the past, he’s been called India’s Erdogan for promoting a similar combination of nationalist identity politics and economic reformism to the Turkish leader’s. But whereas the real Erdogan is now embracing authoritarianism as the economy he revived sputters, India, and the world along with it, has to hope Modi can do better.

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