India's Modi calls farmer protests over contested laws politically motivated

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Protest against farm bills passed by India's parliament

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday that protests by farmers against three laws brought by his government were politically motivated, as he touted the success of an agricultural scheme launched last year.

Thousands of farmers from several Indian states have been camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for over a month, blocking highways to demand that Modi's government repeal the farm laws passed in September that they say threaten their livelihoods.

But Modi's virtual public address on Friday was not focused on the laws under contention.

Instead, he spoke via video conferencing to seven farmers from different states, asking them how they had benefited from 'PM Kisan' - a cash transfer scheme his government launched in February, 2019, under which farmers get minimum income support.

The farmers Modi spoke with on Friday praised his scheme - but none were among the thousands who have been protesting.

Modi repeatedly said "some people" were spreading lies and rumours about farmers' troubles, and dismissed the protests as motivated by political opponents.

"All these people who are protesting in support of farmers, what did they do when they were in power?" he said, referring to opposition politicians. "Those with political motives...are firing the gun from the farmers' shoulders."

Modi also said he was open to discussions with farmers. "I ask even those opposing me today, that my government is ready to talk to them on farmer issues...I urge our farmers to not be misled by anyone."

At least six rounds of talks between Modi's government and farmer leaders on the new laws have failed.

Modi used his address to also to take a dig at his political rivals, chiefly the fiery leader of the eastern state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, ahead of legislative assembly elections in the state in 2021. Modi alleged that Banerjee's government was not allowing the farmers in its state to benefit from Modi's federal scheme.

For an Explainer on India's multi-billion dollar food programme that is at the heart of the ongoing protests, click here https://in.reuters.com/article/india-farms-protests-explainer/explainer-indias-multi-billion-dollar-food-programme-is-at-the-heart-of-farmers-protests-idINKBN28E1VK or here

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in MUMBAI; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)