Down on the Farm

Indian Farmer Suicides—And What Modi is Doing About Them

An Indian agricultural worker walks in a paddy field in Naxalbari, in the northeastern state of West Bengal, September 3, 2004. Kamal Kishore / Reuters

Last month, India unveiled its latest federal budget. To the surprise of many, it includes a strong emphasis on farming, with plans to double the incomes of Indian farmers within the next six years, to release $16 billion from the budget for rural development projects that include farmers’ welfare initiatives, and to allocate some $2.5 billion to speeding up delayed irrigation projects.

These measures are all the more striking given that the current government came to power in 2014 promising not to uplift India’s agrarian masses but, rather, to modernize and urbanize the country. Until this point, its signature economic reform measures have angered more than assisted farmers. Particularly unpopular was an unsuccessful attempt to pass a land acquisition act that would facilitate corporate purchases of private farmland.

So what gives? Politics is undoubtedly part of the story. Last year, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was trounced in local elections in the

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