Soutik Biswas
India correspondent

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  • Indian farmers protest 2020

image copyrightReutersimage captionThe farmers are demanding the repeal of three market-friendly farm laws

After more than 45 days of protests and eight rounds of talks with the government, India's farmers have refused to budge.

Nothing short of a repeal of three market-friendly farm laws – designed to loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce – will make the farmers retreat from protest sites ringing the capital, Delhi. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court, responding to a bunch of petitions, put the laws on hold. The uncertainty lingers.

So why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government fail to anticipate the blowback to the laws and misread the public mood in the affected states of Punjab and Haryana? Were they lulled into complacency because a Punjab-based ally initially supported the laws? (The Akali Dal later reversed its stand and quit the government.) Did the government believe that the laws would not lead to any significant erosion of popular support?

Mr Modi has built a reputation for tough talking and playing hardball with his critics and his party is widely believed to have its ears to the ground. Protests had been brewing in Punjab even before the laws were ratified in the parliament in the middle of the pandemic last September. Angry farmers had squatted on railway tracks in protest. In late September, the regional Akali Dal had walked out.

So why was Mr Modi caught on the wrong foot by what has now grown into arguably the world's biggest protest?