‘Dilli Chalo': Why Are Farmers Protesting Again And What Are Their Demands?

The protest comes after the farmers called off their year-long agitation in December 2021 after the government conceded to their demands. Two years on, farmer unions argue the Modi government hasn’t kept to its promises.

Noida: Farmers during a protest march to the national capital, in Noida, Thursday, Feb. 8, Photo: PTI

Farmers from Punjab and Haryana are headed to the national capital responding to the 'Delhi Chalo' call by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (non-political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM).

In a bid to avoid a repeat of 2020-2021 protests, which were dubbed as the world’s largest agitation involving over 250 million farmers, heightened security measures are in place with Delhi on high alert. Section 144 has been enforced, internet services to several districts have been cut off, and the state borders with Delhi have been sealed.

The protest comes about two years after the farmers called off their year-long protest in December 2021 after the government conceded to their demands and assured them that they would consider guaranteed prices for all produce.

However farmer unions argue the Modi government hasn’t kept to its promises.

Why are the farmers protesting again?

In 2020, farmers from the North Indian states, including Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, protested against three new farm laws passed by the government. The farmers feared that the laws aimed to reform the agricultural sector but were viewed by many farmers as unfair and threatening their livelihoods. The laws weakened the existing system of government-regulated wholesale markets (mandis), lacked legal guarantees for Minimum Support Price (MSP), and allowed for more flexible contract farming agreements.

The protesting farmers demanded the repeal of these laws and the enactment of a law mandating MSP for all crops to ensure fair prices. They also sought exemption from rising electricity bills, which added to their financial strain.

After nearly a year of protests, the government finally agreed to repeal the laws in November 2021 and accepted most of the farmers' demands, in what was celebrated as a huge victory for the farmers.

Two years on, farmer unions argue that the government has failed to deliver on its promise to legally ensure Minimum Support Price (MSP).

In a video message shared by Kisan Mazdoor Morcha coordinator Sarvan Singh Pandher on X on February 7, he said the farmer unions marching to Delhi on Tuesday had ten demands from the government, “…the promises made to us during the previous protest about making a law for MSP guarantee, promise of delivering justice in Lakhimpur Kheri, all Delhi cases [against farmers] have to be revoked, promise to not get the new electricity bill, and exclusion of farmers from the pollution act, along with a new demand for freeing farmers and labourers of debt, we have other demands too, in total ten demands…”.

Pandher, who is one of the leaders of the protest, on Saturday said they would march to Delhi on February 13 and carry out a peaceful protest. “We are appealing to farmers, labourers of the nation, to crores of farmers to march to Delhi, it will be a “do-or-die” fight and we will get them to concede to all our demands, do not panic. Whatever the government does, we have to continue our protest peacefully, we shouldn’t react. We will fight with patience…,” he said in a video message shared on X.

Repeated calls for action

In the two years since the farmers ended their protest, numerous demonstrations have taken place, urging the government to fulfill its commitments. Yet, despite these repeated protests, no action has been taken.

In March 2022, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) organised a nationwide protest against the Centre for failing to fulfil its promises, including the establishment of a panel on MSP.

"There has been no progress in fulfilling the promises made by the Centre to farmers on the issue of forming a panel on MSP to enact legislation, withdrawing cases against farmers, and expelling Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni from the Cabinet. Therefore, the SKM has decided to hold a nationwide protest at the district and block levels on March 21 against the central government for not fulfilling its promises,” senior SKM member Abhimanyu Kohar had told PTI.

On January 31, 2022, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) observed a "day of betrayal" to protest against the Centre's failure to fulfil its promises, with widespread demonstrations across the nation.

In August 2022, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesman Rakesh Tikait warned of another farmer agitation, urging all farmers to remain united and prepare for a movement to protect their lives and land.

Then, in September 2023, led by Rakesh Tikait, a Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat was held in Lucknow, where thousands of agitating farmers gathered to hold the government accountable for its "false and failing promises."

Several other protests and call for actions also went unheard.

Opposition leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge, Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi, Deepender Singh Hooda have in the past slammed the BJP government for not delivering on their promises and have called them out for favouring corporates at the expense of farmers.