Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday he would repeal three agriculture laws that farmers have been protesting against for more than a year, a significant climb-down for the combative leader as important elections loom.
The legislation, introduced in September last year, was aimed at deregulating the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.
Farmers, fearing the reform would cut the prices they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from India and beyond, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna.
"Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws," Modi said in an address to the nation.
"I urge farmers to return to their homes, their farms and their families, and I also request them to start afresh."
The government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament, starting this month, he said.
The surprise concession on laws the government had said were essential to tackle chronic wastage and inefficiencies, comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar
Nevertheless, Modi's capitulation leaves unresolved a complex system of farm subsidies and price supports that critics say the government cannot afford.
It could also raise questions for investors about how ecomonomic reforms risk being undermined by political pressures.
Protesting farmers, who have been camped out in their thousands by main roads around the capital, New Delhi, celebrated Modi's back-track.
"Despite a lot of difficulties, we have been here for nearly a year and today our sacrifice finally paid off," said Ranjit Kumar, a 36-year-old farmer at Ghazipur, a major protest site in Uttar Pradesh.
Jubilant farmers handed out sweets in celebration and chanted "hail the farmer" and "long live farmers' movement".
Rakesh Tikait, a farmers' group leader, said the protests were not being called off.
"We will wait for parliament to repeal the laws," he said on Twitter.