NEW DELHI • Tens of thousands of farmers and rural workers marched to the Indian Parliament in New Delhi yesterday in a protest against soaring operating costs and plunging produce prices that have brought misery to many.
The protest is one of the biggest displays of frustration with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, which faces a tough general election due by May next year. India's 263 million farmers make up an important voting bloc.
"Farmers have been routinely committing suicide," said one of the protest leaders, Mr Yogendra Yadav.
"It's a shame that the government doesn't have any time for those who feed us," added Mr Yadav, who leads the Jai Kisan Andolan, a farmers' group.
Low food prices, export curbs, anti-inflation policies that keep rural incomes low and a broad shift from subsidies to investment spending have infuriated and demoralised farmers.
Core inflation in India, where farming is a mainstay for nearly half the population, has hovered around 6 per cent in the past few months, but food prices have either fallen or remained stagnant.
Agriculture contributes about 15 per cent to India's US$2.6 trillion (S$3.5 trillion) economy, Asia's third-largest, but employs nearly half of its 1.3 billion people.
Farmers from more than 200 groups began gathering in New Delhi on Thursday. They demanded that the government call a special session of Parliament to discuss the crisis in the countryside.
New Delhi police deployed 3,500 personnel yesterday. In October, police fired teargas and water cannons in a clash with about 50,000 farmers heading for New Delhi.
The discontent in the countryside could erode support for Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which won India's biggest parliamentary mandate in three decades in the last general election, in 2014.