The perceived threats to their income terrified farmers, who mostly work on a small scale: More than two-thirds of them own less than 1 hectare (2 1/2 acres) of land.

In a surprise announcement, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday his government will withdraw the controversial agriculture laws that prompted yearlong protests from tens of thousands of farmers and posed a significant political challenge to his administration, AP reports.

The decision is a major climbdown by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government, which enjoys a brute majority in Parliament but has been often accused by opposition leaders and constitutional experts of ramming through laws without enough consultation. The decision also came ahead of key elections in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and on the day of the Guru Purab festival, when Sikhs, who made up most of the protesters, celebrate their founder Guru Nanak’s birthday.

Modi made the announcement during a televised speech that was broadcast live, a medium he has chosen over the years to make public some of his government’s landmark, sometimes contentious, decisions. He urged the protesters to return home and said the constitutional process to repeal the laws will begin in December when Parliament sits for the winter session.

“While apologizing to the nation, I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that maybe something was lacking in our efforts that we could not explain the truth to some of our farmer brothers,” Modi said during the address. He then went on to say: “Let us make a fresh start.”

The laws were passed in September last year and Modi’s party had refused to extend the debate despite repeated requests from the opposition.

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