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A flashpoint between farmers, mainly from Punjab, and the Narendra Modi government could have implications for future reforms. Recent legislation enacted to free Indian agriculture of intermediaries in control of the mandi procurement system, and let corporate houses, among others, into the field as buyers, were met with protests that haven’t died down, despite the wider choice of options that an open market would assure crop sellers.

So, what explains their disaffection? Their main anxiety seems to be over the spectre of being abandoned by the Centre and left to the mercy of corporate overlordship should the state stop mopping up their produce at special support prices. While the government has said it will remain India’s chief if not monopoly buyer of farm output, suspicions run so high among protesters that they want that commitment baked explicitly into Indian law. Else, the state’s role would wither away, some worry, citing education and healthcare as examples. New Delhi would do well to address such concerns, even as it explains the benefits of an open market. Good economics must not stumble on bad politics and set reforms back.

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