NEW DELHI — When the coronavirus first struck India last year, the country enforced one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns. The warning was clear: A fast spread in a population of 1.3 billion would be devastating.
Though damaging and ultimately flawed, the lockdown and other efforts appeared to work. Infections dropped and deaths remained low. Officials and the public dropped their guard. Experts warned fruitlessly that the government’s haphazard approach would bring a crisis when a new wave appeared.
Now the crisis is here.
India on Friday reported a daily record of 131,878 new infections as Covid-19 races out of control. Deaths, while still relatively low, are rising. Vaccinations, a mammoth task in such a large nation, are dangerously behind schedule. Hospital beds are running short.
Parts of the country are reinforcing lockdowns. Scientists are rushing to track new strains, including the more hazardous variants found in Britain and South Africa, that may be hastening the spread. But the authorities have declared contact tracing in some places to be simply impossible.
now behind the United States and Brazil.) The economic blowback of the resulting lockdown was devastating.
But the numbers at the time actually understated the first wave, scientists now say, and deaths in India never matched levels of the United States or Britain. Leaders began acting as if the problem had been solved.
Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine makers, boasted of a major stockpile of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which makes up the bulk of the country’s drive. The government even launched a “vaccine diplomacy” campaign that sent doses to other countries.
But the initial rollout within India was slowed by complacency and plagued with public skepticism, including questions about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and lack of disclosure about an Indian-developed dose. Now the vaccination program is not matching the spread. The Serum Institute has said that practically all of its daily production of about two million doses will over the next two months go to the government, delaying commitments to other countries.
Several Indian states now worry that their vaccines stocks will run out. Mumbai, India’s largest city, had shut more than half of its vaccination centers, local media reported on Friday. The central government’s health minister lashed out at the states, reassuring that there would be no shortage and that more supplies were in the pipeline.
hit the campaign trail for state elections. Prime Minister Modi has addressed more than 20 rallies, each with thousands of often-unmasked people.
On Wednesday, Delhi officials said that even a solo car driver would be punished for not wearing a mask properly. The same day, Amit Shah, the country’s de facto No. 2 leader, drove through a campaign crowd in the state of West Bengal, waving without a mask and throwing rose petals.
The government also gave the go ahead for a long Hindu religious festival called Kumbh Mela, which runs through the end of April. Between one million to five million people attend the festival each day in the city of Hardiwar, on the banks of the river Ganges in the state of Uttarakhand.
no one would face restrictions as “the faith in God will overcome the fear of Covid-19.” Days later, Mr. Rawat tested positive for Covid.
The positivity rate of random tests is rising at the festival, and more than 300 participants have tested positive, said Dr. Arjun Singh Senger, a health officer at the festival.
The sheer speed of new infections has surprised health officials, who wonder whether variants might be a factor. Answering that question will be difficult. India has put only about 1 percent of its cases through genome sequencing tests, according to Dr. Reddy, of the Public Health Foundation of India, but researchers require a minimum of 5 percent to determine what is circulating.
So far, the government has found variants from the U.K. and South Africa as well as a local mutation. Limited information suggests that more infectious variants are circulating in India, as well, Dr. Reddy said.
Even if the variants have not yet been a major part of the new wave of infections, they have cast a shadow over India’s crucial vaccination drive. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been rejected by South Africa ineffective against that variant.
“This time, the speed is much faster than the last time,” said Dr. Vinod K. Paul, the head of India’s Covid response task force. “The next four weeks are very, very crucial for us.”
NANDIGRAM, India — The challenger arrived with police vehicles, a band of drummers and the backing of the country’s powerful prime minister. The crowd joined him in full-throated chants of glory to the Hindu god Ram: “Jai Shree Ram!” He brought a warning: If Hindus did not unite around him, even their most basic religious practices would be in danger in the face of Muslim appeasement.
In another part of town, the incumbent took the stage in a wheelchair, the result of what she said was a politically motivated assault. Though her injuries kept her from stalking the stage in her white sari and sandals as usual, she still regaled the audience with taunts for the opposition. And she had a warning of her own: Her defeat would be a victory for an ideology that has no place for minorities like Muslims.
The monthlong election unfolding in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal is deeply personal. Mamata Banerjee, the state’s chief minister for the past decade, is facing off against her former protégé of 20 years, Suvendu Adhikari. He and dozens of other local leaders have defected from her party and are now allied with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.
But the heated vote could indicate something broader: whether anybody can stop Mr. Modi’s movement to reshape India’s secular republic into a Hindu-first nation.
state victories. His Bharatiya Janata Party has reduced the main opposition group, the Indian National Congress, to a shadow of its past glory, pushing the country toward becoming a one-party democracy.
West Bengal represents a test of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist reach. The state of 90 million people remains deeply proud of its Indigenous culture and tolerance of minorities. It is run by a strong regional leader with the heft and profile to challenge Mr. Modi directly.
has chronicled the rise of the B.J.P.
“They would have shown that the B.J.P. is an all-India party, that our Hindu nationalism is capable of vernacular adaptation,” Mr. Sitapati said. “And that is a powerful symbol.”
beat her head with metal rods. She trounced the Communists in elections nevertheless.
Last month, in the midst of a jostling crowd, a car door slammed on Ms. Banerjee’s leg. She declared the incident a politically motivated attack, a contention her opponents have questioned. Still, her party has made her cast a symbol of a leader putting her body on the line for her cause.
Mithun Chakraborty, a Bengali actor famous for movies like “Disco Dancer” and “Cobra.”
“I am a pure cobra,” Mr. Chakraborty told one recent rally, as B.J.P. leaders behind him applauded. “One bite, and you will be at the cremation ground!”
Ms. Banerjee’s iron grip over state politics looms over the vote. The B.J.P. is trying to ride anti-incumbent sentiment fueled by her party’s corruption scandals and the way its members have used extortion and violence to keep power.
But Mr. Adhikari and many of the B.J.P.’s local candidates for the state’s 294-seat local assembly were themselves, until recently, members of her party. After decades of heavy-handedness by the Communists and Ms. Banerjee, Mr. Modi’s party began actively expanding in West Bengal only after he became prime minister in 2014, though its infrastructure is still lacking. One joke in the state holds that Trinamool will win a third term even if the B.J.P. prevails.
Ms. Banerjee’s success could depend on convincing voters that her party’s bad apples now work for the B.J.P. The B.J.P.’s dependence on Trinamool defectors has also led to a revolt among local Modi supporters who saw their presence as an insult to their years of work in the face of intimidation by the same people now chosen to represent them.
One defector, an 89-year-old assembly member named Rabindranath Bhattacharya, said he had switched parties only because Ms. Banerjee didn’t nominate him to serve a fifth term.
“I changed my party, but I am not changed,” Mr. Bhattacharya said in an interview at his house. Trinamool flags still hung from the trees and gate.
His candidacy moved hundreds of B.J.P. workers and supporters to pressure Mr. Bhattacharya to step aside. They went on a hunger strike, painted over party signs and ransacked the home of the local B.J.P. chief.
“We started here when no one dared speak as a B.J.P. member,” said Gautam Modak, who has worked for the B.J.P. in the district since 2003. “He got the party ticket three days after joining the B.J.P.”
Mr. Adhikari has said he defected from Ms. Banerjee’s camp because she and her nephew and heir-apparent, Abhishek Banerjee, use other party leaders as “employees” without sharing power. Still, in recent rallies he has put greater emphasis on identity politics, ending with chants of “Jai Shree Ram!”
Voting took place on Saturday in the town of Nandigram, a lush agricultural area, and both candidates were there. At rallies, crowds energized by their moment of power over sometimes abusive politicians braved the heat to listen, cheer and support. Turnout totaled 88 percent.
Satish Prasad Jana, a 54-year-old B.J.P. supporter at Mr. Adhikari’s rally, said he mainly supported Mr. Modi. He had no dispute with Ms. Banerjee except that she couldn’t control the abuse of her party workers, and he knew that some of those same people now work for Mr. Adhikari.
“I have 90 percent faith in Modi, 10 percent faith in Adhikari,” he said.
Hours later, a large rally of Ms. Banerjee’s supporters took place in a school courtyard surrounded by coconut trees. Women in colorful saris outnumbered men. They praised Ms. Banerjee’s government for paving the road that led to the school, for distributing rice at low prices and for making payments to families to keep their girls in school and prevent child marriage, among other initiatives.
But the energy was focused squarely on teaching Mr. Adhikari a lesson.
“You said Mamata is like your mother. The mother made you a leader, a minister, and in charge of the whole district,” said Suhajata Maity, a local leader, addressing Mr. Adhikari.
“Then, you stabbed the mother in her back.”
To resounding applause, she ended her speech with a call to the mothers in the crowd: “Will you teach him such a lesson that he abandons politics all together?”
DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in protests against a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to Bangladesh as part of celebrations for the country’s 50th anniversary.
Clashes between protesters and security forces began Friday after weekly prayers in three cities — Dhaka, the capital; Brahammanbaria, near the Indian border; and the coastal city of Chattogram.
An Islamist group called Hefazat-e-Islam led street processions denouncing Mr. Modi. On Friday, four people were killed in Chattogram and one person was killed in Brahammanbaria, where hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque. The clashes began there after one group of protesters began waving their shoes in a sign of contempt for Mr. Modi, according to local television news reports.
One channel reported that at least 40 people had been injured in the clashes, including some journalists.
Bangladeshi and Muslim migrants from India — could make such a partnership more difficult.
At a press briefing Saturday, Mamunul Haque, a senior leader for Hefajat-e-Islami, said that a shutdown had been called to protest the deaths of those demonstrating against Mr. Modi’s visit to Bangladesh.
“We want to make this clear,” Mr. Mamunul said, “our movement is not against the government, our movement is against atheists and apostates.”
Conservative Islamic views have been gaining ground in Bangladesh, a secular democracy that is more than 90 percent Muslim. Anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment has been used to challenge Ms. Hasina’s party, the Awami League, since the country was founded after a bloody war for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Under Ms. Hasina, who has been in power on and off since 1996, and is serving a fourth consecutive term, Bangladesh has come to be seen as somewhat of an economic miracle, regularly posting 8 percent annual growth. Its ready-made garment industry is considered second only to China’s. And the country of 160 million has risen steadily up the United Nations Human Development Index.
Bangladesh’s success story, however, has a dark underbelly: accusations of deep corruption and the stifling of dissent in the increasingly authoritarian government of a country that has been prone to coups and political violence.
While Mr. Modi’s trip is mainly focused on Bangladesh’s anniversary celebrations, the visit also has political implications in India, where voting began Saturday in several state-level elections, including West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh.
series of tweets late Saturday after returning to New Delhi, Mr. Modi said he and Ms. Hasina had discussed how to deepen their relationship.
“I would like to thank the people of Bangladesh for their affection during my visit,” Mr. Modi wrote. “I am sure this visit will lead to further strengthening of bilateral ties between our nations.”
Mr. Modi made no mention of the violence and deaths.
Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka and Emily Schmall reported from New Delhi.
NEW DELHI — Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has cultivated and cowed large parts of the country’s normally raucous news media in recent years as part of a broader campaign against dissent.
One group remains untamed: A relatively new generation of scrappy, online-focused news outlets. With names like The Wire, The Print, The Scroll, and NewsLaundry, these publications lack big corporate owners that Mr. Modi’s party can court. They also don’t depend on government advertising money that officials can threaten to withhold.
Now, the platforms say, Mr. Modi is working to rein them in, too.
India’s media outlets had until Saturday to comply with new government rules that they say will force them to change or take down content if online trolls mount a concerted campaign of complaints against their coverage. It would also give the government sweeping new powers to quickly take down articles or other material.
The rules, they say, will force them to toe Mr. Modi’s line or close their doors as the prime minister pushes his most ambitious and controversial initiatives.
freedom of the press has eroded under Mr. Modi’s watch.
Still, while his efforts enjoy broad support in India, critics of his campaigns — from remaking the country’s money system overnight to changing citizenship laws to disadvantage Muslims — have found a home in the robust online space. Their potential audience is vast: India could have more than 800 million smartphone users by next year.
responded by threatening the critics and international platforms like Twitter.
In February, it also enacted online content rules that empower complainers. Online platforms must name a grievance officer who acknowledges complaints within one day and resolves them within 15. The complaint must be taken swiftly to a three-layer system, with a final stop at a government-appointed body that can order platforms to delete or change content.
The new rules also give the government emergency powers to take down content immediately if officials believe it threatens public order or the country’s security or sovereignty.
Netflix and Amazon. The full scope of the law is unclear; some people believe that it could apply to international news publishers like The New York Times.
The government has said it wants to protect average users from online abuse. Officials have cited the spread of deliberate disinformation, harassment of women, abusive language and disrespect of religious groups. Mr. Modi’s ministers have said the rules create a “soft-touch oversight mechanism” that would protect India and prevent “internet imperialism” by major social media platforms.
ownership structure behind many Indian media outlets makes them too dependent on advertising and investors, he argues, influencing their editorial decisions. With The Wire — owned by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a trust — he wanted to explore a different arrangement.
The Wire operates from a crammed southern New Delhi office. Mr. Varadarajan sits in a corner. To save money after India’s stringent Covid-19 lockdown last year, The Wire vacated a floor.
“We have all been downgraded,” he told a columnist one recent afternoon who had looked for him at his old office upstairs. “Cutbacks.”
sudden increase in the fortunes of the son of one Mr. Modi’s most important lieutenants. They have also scrutinized business deals that may have favored companies seen as friendly to the prime minister.
At a recent meeting at The Wire newsroom, the conversation ranged from coverage plans for state elections, to how to shoot video quickly, to how to balance working at home and in the office as coronavirus cases tick up.
But much of the talk focused on the new regulations. Mr. Varadarajan told his staff that The Wire’s first court hearing had gone well but that the authorities were watching the digital platforms closely.
“Now that you know they will be waiting for opportunity to latch onto anything, look at it as extra responsibility,” Mr. Varadarajan said. “We have to be 150 percent careful to not leave any wiggle room to troublemakers, to not make their life any easier.”
DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least four people were killed and dozens injured in violent protests in Bangladesh on Friday, set off by the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to mark 50 years since Bangladesh gained independence.
The deaths occurred in the southeastern district of Chattogram, where students from a prominent Islamic school and members of an Islamist group clashed with the police, officials said.
Alauddin Talukder, a police official, told reporters that five injured people had been taken to a Chattogram hospital and that four had died during treatment.
During Mr. Modi’s two-day visit, his first abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began, he will also commemorate the centennial of the birth of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangladeshi independence leader whose daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is now prime minister.
welcomed Mr. Modi at the airport on Friday morning.
Critics in India and elsewhere have accused Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party of stoking religious polarization in India and discriminating against minorities, particularly Muslims. In recent weeks, demonstrators in Muslim-majority Bangladesh have urged Mr. Modi not to visit and criticized Ms. Hasina for inviting him.
Bangladeshi news outlets reported on Friday that members of an Islamist group had attacked government buildings, including a police station, in the Hathazari area of Chattogram before the clashes that led to the deaths.
Violence also broke out at the Baitul Mokarram mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, as rival groups of demonstrators clashed. Police officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, injuring scores of people, officials and witnesses said.
Protesters also set fire to offices at a railway station in the eastern district of Brahmanbaria, disrupting communications.
Outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque, hundreds of protesters had gathered by Friday afternoon. Witnesses said the clashes started after one faction of protesters began waving their shoes in a sign of contempt for Mr. Modi, and another group tried to stop them.
Local news outlets said the protesters who tried to stop the shoe-waving were aligned with Ms. Hasina’s governing Awami League party. TV broadcasts showed some protesters throwing stones at the police, who had been maintaining a heavy presence near the mosque. One channel reported that at least 40 people were injured in the clashes, including some journalists.
Abdul Mazid, a businessman, said he was trapped in the mosque after trying to flee when violence erupted during prayers. “I had a feeling that something was going to happen. I am still inside the mosque,” he said by telephone. “There is huge violence, I can see from here.”
After Mr. Modi’s arrival, Ms. Hasina told an audience in a parade square in Dhaka that Bangladesh’s relations with India had reached a new high. “If we move forward hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable,” she said.
While Mr. Modi’s trip is mainly focused on Bangladesh’s anniversary celebrations, the visit also has political implications in India, where voting begins on Saturday in several state-level elections, including West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh.
With an eye toward galvanizing Hindu support in that battleground state, Mr. Modi is scheduled to visit a Hindu temple outside Dhaka that is sacred to the Matua community in West Bengal. The Matua sect’s vote could decide at least seven seats in a close race for control of the state assembly.
In a tweet late Thursday before his trip, Mr. Modi said the two countries shared a vital relationship.
“Our partnership with Bangladesh is an important pillar of our Neighborhood First policy, and we are committed to further deepen and diversify it. We will continue to support Bangladesh’s remarkable development journey, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s dynamic leadership,” he said.
NEW DELHI — With its own battle against the coronavirus taking a sharp turn for the worse, India has severely curtailed exports of Covid-19 vaccines, triggering setbacks for vaccination drives in many other countries.
The government of India is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses that the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day.
India is desperate for all the doses it can get. Infections are soaring, topping 50,000 per day, more than double the number less than two weeks ago. And the Indian vaccine drive has been sluggish, with less than 4 percent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people getting a jab, far behind the rates of the United States, Britain and most European countries.
Just a few weeks ago, India was a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was using that to exert influence in South Asia and around the world. More than 70 countries, from Djibouti to Britain, received vaccines made in India, with a total of more than 60 million doses. From mid January into March, not more than a few days passed between major vaccine shipments leaving India.
data from India’s foreign ministry. And Covax, the program set up by donor agencies to purchase vaccines for poorer nations, said on Thursday that it had told those countries that nearly 100 million doses expected in March and April would face delays because of “increased demand for Covid-19 vaccines in India.”
The Indian government has not publicly commented on what’s happening, and would not when reached by The New York Times for this article. But health experts say the explanation is obvious: India is drawing up its gates as a second wave of infections hits home, holding tight to a vaccine that it didn’t develop but that is being produced in huge quantities on its soil.
a heavy-handed nationalist, has regulatory control over how many vaccine doses can be exported at any given time, and it seems India is going in the same direction as the European Union, which is moving to curb exports.
Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the Serum Institute and scion of the billionaire family that runs the company, finds himself in a highly uncomfortable spot. The Serum Institute has a reputational interest in keeping its word to its foreign customers and to AstraZeneca, and fulfilling the contracts it has signed.
Mr. Poonawalla tweeted in late February. “We are trying our best.”
a deal it signed last year with AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical giant that teamed up with the scientists at Oxford who developed its vaccine.
Production issues at other AstraZeneca facilities in Belgium and the Netherlands have led to wealthier nations like Canada, Saudi Arabia and Britain to rely on Serum Institute’s doses as well, making the company even more critical to the global supply chain of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
the global vaccine supply chain.
With new variants spreading, he said, it’s in the interests of all countries to work together to vaccinate the world.
“Many countries around the world, poorer ones in particular, are counting on India,” Mr. Wouters said. “Vaccine nationalism hurts us all.”
Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest nations and next door to India, has had to halt its vaccination campaign. It was heavily reliant on doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made at the Serum Institute, but with its national stockpile running low, Nepal stopped administering vaccines on March 17.
Dr. Jhalak Sharma, chief of the immunization department within Nepal’s health ministry, said the country had received a donation of one million doses from the Indian government and had already paid 80 percent of the price for the next two million but that didn’t seem to have made a difference.
according to Reuters. Morocco is now scrambling to secure more of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine or get doses from other sources, Moroccan news media reported.
The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity was always central to a plan to get vaccines to the poor. A spokesman for AstraZeneca would not disclose exactly what percentage of the global supply of its vaccine that Serum manufactures, but a recent AstraZeneca statement called the contribution “substantial.” Serum has committed to making around a third of the total 3 billion doses that AstraZeneca said it will produce by the end of 2021, though meeting that timeline seems increasingly unlikely.
The alliance between Serum, which started out as a ranch that made serums from horse blood, and Oxford-AstraZeneca has resulted in the world’s cheapest Covid-19 shot: just $2. The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, by comparison, cost much more and require extreme cold storage, adding to the difficulty.
Serum is also playing a huge role in the Covax program for poorer nations. Documents from the World Health Organization show that the Indian company was expected to contribute 240 million doses by the end of June.
But the data from the Indian foreign ministry, and the statement Thursday from Covax, indicate that vaccine drives around the world are likely to be further delayed.
The Serum Institute has supplied Covax with 28 million doses so far, according to the international program. India’s foreign ministry showed that 18 million doses had been shipped abroad under Covax, suggesting that about 10 million doses of India’s domestic vaccination also came from the program, which lists India as qualifying for a share.
In contrast, about 34 million doses have been supplied in commercial deals and about 8 million donated by the government of India as part of its vaccine diplomacy.
On April 1, India will expand eligibility and allow anyone 45 or older to get a jab.
“It’s a fluid situation,” said K. Srinath Reddy, a health policy expert at India’s nonprofit Public Health Foundation. “But at the moment, given the fact that vaccine supply and Covid situation is dynamic, I think it’s only appropriate that government of India takes a pause and says, ‘Let’s hold onto the stocks.’”
Benjamin Mueller contributed from London, and Bhadra Sharma from Kathmandu, Nepal.
BHAGWANPURA, India — The farmer sat in the house his grandfather built, contemplating economic ruin.
Jaswinder Singh Gill had plowed 20 years of savings from an earlier career as a mechanical engineer into his family’s nearly 40-acre plot in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, just a dozen miles from the border with Pakistan. He has eked rice out of the sandy, loamy soil with the help of generous government subsidies for 15 years, in hopes that his son and daughter may someday become the sixth generation to work the land.
Then India suddenly transformed the way it farms. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year pushed through new laws that would reduce the government’s role in agriculture, aimed at fixing a system that has led to huge rice surpluses in a country that still grapples with malnutrition.
But the laws could make Mr. Gill’s farm and many others like it unsustainable. They would reduce the role of government-run markets for grain, which the farmers fear would eventually undermine the price subsidies that make their work possible. If that happens, the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on the land could be in jeopardy.
in a matter of days — could devastate vast swaths of the country where farming remains a way of life.
60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people make a living from agriculture, though the sector accounts for only about 11 percent of economic output. For many, getting another job isn’t an option. The manufacturing sector has shrunk slightly since 2012, government figures show, while the work force has swelled.
“Our potential nonagricultural work force is growing very fast,” said Jayan Jose Thomas, an economist and professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. “They’re all looking for jobs.”
Officials in the ministry of agriculture in New Delhi did not respond to requests for comment.
Unquestionably, India’s current system is outdated. It was introduced in the 1960s to stave off a famine by encouraging farmers to grow wheat and rice. It included minimum prices set by the government, helping farmers sell what they grow for a profit.
according to the Global Hunger Index. India’s surpluses are grown in the wrong places, and the public food rations system can’t transport all of the grain to the needy before it rots. The government doesn’t buy enough nutritious crops like green leafy vegetables, lentils, chickpeas and sorghum to incentivize farmers to grow them.
leading to crushing debt and suicides.
The subsidies encourage farmers in Punjab, a relatively dry area, to grow conventional rice, which requires a lot of water. Rice and wheat irrigation is depleting the area’s water table, according to India’s Central Groundwater Board.
Mr. Gill once tried to grow basmati rice instead. More flavorful and nutritious than conventional rice, it also consumes less water, grows faster and sells at a premium on the international market. But government price rules don’t cover basmati rice. When he sold the basmati rice, Mr. Gill said, a private buyer shortchanged him.
Under Mr. Modi’s plan, corporate buyers would take a much greater role in Indian agriculture because farmers would have greater power to sell their crops to private buyers outside the mandi system, which he said would lift farmer incomes and increase exports.
it spurred growth, but some economists and farmers in Punjab consider it a failure. Some farms in Bihar ship their harvests to Punjab’s mandis for the guaranteed prices, while many of those who lost their farms became migrant laborers in Punjab.
The change in the farm laws is an example of how Mr. Modi has a penchant for quick, dramatic moves that have roiled the country. Punjab’s farmers and local officials want slower change and a shift in subsidies to support different crops. In interviews, the farmers of Bhagwanpura, population 1,620, said they feared losing their farms and having no other work.
“I’m not scared of hard work,” said Rajwinder Kaur, 28. “I will do any job, but there are none.”
average of about two and a half.
With revenue from her grain sales, Ms. Kaur said, she and her two children can barely eat. A relative pays one child’s tuition at a local Catholic school. She is negotiating with the school to waive fees for the other.
joined the protests have left family members to tend the land. Others pool their money to support the protests.
“We feel that the struggle of Punjab is everyone’s struggle,” said Gurjant Singh, the village head, “and unless everyone contributes to that cause, the protest will not be successful.”
Mr. Gill lent his 17-foot tractor-trailer and donated money and grain to those taking turns. For him, defending the farm is a family matter.
His grandfather built the farmhouse after the bloody partition of Pakistan from India in 1947 forced him to flee Pakistan. The subsidies of the 1960s brought the farm prosperity, making it the largest landholding in this corner of Punjab.
Since he took over the farm in 2005, Mr. Gill has plowed his savings into a smart irrigation system, built a machine to clear crop residue and invested in a pair of John Deere tractors.
As he spoke, prayers from a Sikh gurdwara, or temple, bellowed through a loudspeaker across Mr. Gill’s wheat fields.
“Work hard, worship the Almighty, and share the benefits with all mankind,” Mr. Gill said. “That is what is taught to us at the gurdwara every day.”
His fears for the future, he said, should not hinder his work.
“What’s going on here is within me,” he added, touching his heart. “I should keep it in myself.”