NEW DELHI—Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has bet on an overhaul of the agricultural sector as a way to resuscitate an economy that has been crushed by Covid-19 and push through deregulations that some economists say are long overdue.
Now, with tens of thousands of farmers repeatedly blocking roads into New Delhi over the past week, the way he responds to the protests could determine whether he can pull it off.
The Modi administration has been discussing the issue with protest leaders, but they have so far refused to call off the strike and say they could dig in for months. Vikram Singh, joint secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union, said his organization held a two-hour nationwide strike Thursday and planned another protest on Saturday if talks remain inconclusive.
“They never expected farmers to come out in such large numbers to protest,” he said. “We will not back off until our demands are met.”
The proposed overhauls are politically risky for Mr. Modi, whose popularity has so far held up amid the pandemic. His party saw a surge in support in local elections last month in the state of Bihar. But more than half of the population is connected directly or indirectly to farming.