Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the Centre and Parliament have “great respect for farmers” protesting against the new farm laws, and added that the legislations were not “coercive”. The prime minister made the remarks during his address in the Lok Sabha in reply to the Motion of Thanks on President’s Address.

“This House, our government and we all respect farmers who are voicing their views on the farm bills, and will continue to do so,” Modi said. The new farm laws were introduced in an attempt to improve the agriculture sector and provide options, the prime minister said, defending the legislations.

“We brought in three laws regarding agriculture,” he said, according to The Hindu. “This was part of a response to the crisis facing agriculture sector. I noticed that the debate here, especially from Congress, talked more of the colour of the laws rather than its intent and content. If they had, possibly farmers would have benefitted. Let us understand, as far as the protests are concerned, our farmer brothers at Delhi borders have been a victim of various rumours.”

As Modi spoke about the farmer protests, a few Congress MPs, including Rahul Gandhi, staged a walkout from the Lower House. “The Congress is divided and confused,” Modi said as the politicians walked out. “They can neither work for its own good nor it can think about solving the issues of the country. What can be more unfortunate than this?”

He criticised the Opposition party for disrupting his speech and called it a “well-planned strategy” to prevent the truth from coming out. “These attempts to shout and create chaos is part of a well-thought political conspiracy,” Modi said. “...but you [Opposition] cannot earn people’s trust this way.”

The prime minister also reiterated his criticism of “aandolanjeevis” or professional protestors and said that the country must learn to differentiate between genuine protestors and them. “I consider the farmers agitation as pure but when andolanjeevis join them what happens?” Modi said, according to The Hindu. “...placards of rioters and those in jail for violence crop up in these protests....telecom towers are broken in Punjab is that commensurate with the aims of farmers? This country must differentiate between andolankari and andolanjeevi.”

The prime minister was interrupted multiple times in his over 90-minute address as Opposition leaders protested against the farm laws. The protesting politicians shouted slogans against the new laws, and called for their repeal.

After Modi’s address, Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that his party colleagues walked out during Modi’s address as he did not discuss their concerns about the farmers’ death. “He agreed that amendments are required in farm laws, some states will be benefitted and some won’t,” the Congress leader added. “Why do you have to bring laws that won’t be benefitting everyone?”

Follow today’s updates from the Parliament here

Farmers’ protest

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Delhi’s border points for over two months, seeking the withdrawal of agricultural laws passed in September. The protests had largely been peaceful but violence erupted on January 26, when a tractor rally planned to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned chaotic. More than 100 protestors have been arrested in connection with the violence and several are missing.

The farmers believe that the new laws undermine their livelihood and open the path for the corporate sector to dominate agricultural. The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies. The laws are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and open up the market, the government has claimed.