New Delhi: After a day of high drama that saw water cannons and tear gas shelling, farmers’ protest at the gates of New Delhi fizzled out on Wednesday.

Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) which organized the march called off the protest after authorities allowed farmers to proceed to Rajghat post-midnight. While the government promised to consider most of their demands, it did not make any concrete promise on higher crop support prices and loan waivers.

On Tuesday, police forces at Ghazipur near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border stopped the farmers who had set off from Haridwar in Uttarakhand on 23 September by foot. As protesters tried to break barricades and enter the national capital, police fired tear gas shells and water cannons, drawing widespread criticism from opposition political parties and farmer bodies.

Why did BKU call off the protests? According to Yudhvir Singh, a senior farmer leader from the organization, the primary point of discontent of farmers was the fact they were not allowed to enter Delhi by the government using police forces. “Once we were allowed to come to Rajghat as planned, we decided to end the protest march," Singh said.

Among the organization’s key demands were an unconditional loan waiver, a minimum income guarantee for farmers, pension for elderly cultivators and clearing pending dues to sugarcane growers in Uttar Pradesh, who formed the bulk of the protesters.

“After we started our protest march from Haridwar, the state government of Uttar Pradesh released 5,500 crore to settle the dues to sugarcane farmers... that demand was diluted," Singh said. “What the centre has promised to look into is not concrete but we will resume our protests if the demands are not met within a month," he added.

The BKU organized the protest march despite the centre taking several steps to resolve the farm distress situation ahead of crucial state elections this year and general elections the next year. These include financial packages for sugar mills to help them clear dues to farmers, fixing minimum support prices of kharif crops at 50% over costs of production and announcing a new price support scheme for pulses and oilseeds growers in September.

Farmer leaders from other organizations, however, criticized the BKU calling off protests without extracting any concrete solutions from the government. “The way the situation escalated on Monday and dissipated within hours with the leaders of BKU giving in, was a betrayal of the trust of farmers who rallied behind it," said one farmer leader who did not want to be named.

“The situation was mediated by home minister Rajnath Singh and not the agriculture minister. Reaching Delhi’s Rajghat cannot be the sole purpose of a farmer’s march," said another farmer leader.

A protest called off, however, does not indicate peace ahead. All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of around 200 farmer organizations from around the country is planning a large demonstration by the end of November, just ahead of state elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

“We will press the government on two major demands of fixing remunerative crop prices and an unconditional loan waiver," said V.M. Singh, convener of AIKSCC.

Protests by farmers escalated beginning June 2017 as record harvests of cereals and pulses led to a sharp plunge in crop prices, despite government efforts to step up procurement at support prices. The price dip continues, with year-on-year wholesale food price inflation slowing down to -4% in August, the sharpest fall since the Narendra Modi government took charge in 2014.

What turn farm movements take in an election year will also depend on the way crop prices move and whether farmers benefit from the recently announced price support scheme PM-AASHA. For now, the initial arrivals of pulses and oilseeds in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan show that farmers are selling their crops substantially lower than the promised MSP.

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