04:10 GMT17 January 2021
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    A high-powered government delegation made up of the federal agriculture and defence ministers has invited protesting farmers to sit down to talks amid ongoing protests triggered by the passage of new farm laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked the farmers to drop their "misconceptions" about the new pieces of legislation.

    Scores of Indian social media users have criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for attending a laser show on a river cruise in the pilgrimage city of Varanasi on Monday evening even as farmer protests continue to simmer in the capital, Delhi.

    The PM was visiting the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges to commemorate the Hindu festival of Dev Deepawali. As per Hindu religious scriptures, Gods and Goddesses descend upon the ancient city of Varanasi (formerly Kashi) to mark the occasion, which falls on a full moon at the start of the winter season.

    Varanasi also happens to be Prime Minister Modi's parliamentary constituency.

    Towards Monday evening, Modi took to a cruise and witnessed a laser show to commemorate the festival. However, several Indian social media users questioned the hidden message behind the prime minister's gesture, as they pointed towards ongoing demonstrations by farmers.

    A section of netizens, however, supported Prime Minister Modi and lashed out at others for "politicising" his trip. 

    ​PM Modi Backs Farm Laws

    While thousands of farmers from the state of Punjab have laid siege to the main entry and exit points to Delhi since last week in a bid to pressure the federal government to rescind the new laws, Prime Minister Modi has doubled down on the laws.

    Addressing an event during his day-long Varanasi visit, Modi took a critical note of the ongoing farmer protests in the Indian capital, describing the farmers as "misguided".

    "Earlier, protests used to happen based on facts. Now, people are spreading lies (about the farm related ordinances) to rile up farmers. People are speculating and farmers are protesting…", said Prime Minister Modi.

    ​"The farmers of the country should reap the benefits of an unrestricted market and advanced technology", Modi stated in his address, listing the potential benefits of the farm-related ordinances.

    One of the new laws, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, allows farmers to sell their produce outside government-regulated Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) zones. Protesting farmers fear being short-charged by private players once APMCs lose their power.

    Besides the aforementioned legislation, farmers have also demanded the withdrawal of two other laws, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, and an amendment in the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. The protesters have also called upon the government to withdraw the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, fearing that it would spell the end of subsidised electricity for agriculture.

    Related:

    New Agriculture Laws are Death Sentence for Indian Farmers, Says Opposition Figure Rahul Gandhi
    Rahul Gandhi Accuses Indian PM Modi of Committing Atrocities Against Protesting Farmers
    Indian Agriculture Ministry Invites Farmers to Discuss Issues Amid Agriculture Law Protest
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    Narendra Modi, Varanasi
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