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Farm unions say back-channel talks were always on, say will welcome Amarinder ‘help’

The last round of official talks between the Centre and the farm unions on January 22 had failed to resolve the stalemate.

Former Punjab CM Amarinder Singh. (File Photo)

The farmer unions protesting against the three agricultural laws for past nearly 11 months Wednesday said the back-channel talks with the Centre were always on but added they will thank former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh if he mediates and gets their issues resolved.

The last round of official talks between the Centre and the unions on January 22 had failed to resolve the stalemate. While the government offered to suspend the laws for 12-18 months, the farmers had refused to budge from their demand of total repeal of the legislations.

Sources claimed that Amarinder had met a few farmer leaders twice after resigning as CM.

A farm union leader requesting not to be named but privy to the talks with government officials, said, “Efforts were always on. Back channels were open. Officials from the office of Home Minister and Agriculture Minister were in touch with us. However, things never reached any consensus. Otherwise, the dharna would have been lifted long ago.”

Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the BKU (Ugrahan), said “few informal conversations” did happen in the past “where mediators offered to get our demands heard”. “But the issue is at a standstill. Those mediators were not that serious for us to trust them,” he added.

Agriculture Ministry sources, however, ruled out any back-channel negotiations. They reiterated that the government had given a proposal to the protesting farm unions in January, but they had not accepted.

A farm union leader said that they will not accept anything except repeal of the three farm laws. “The top priority of Punjab farmers is that the three farm laws be repealed. Farmers from the rest of the country are demanding enactment of a law on the MSP,” said the farm leader, who is a member of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the nine-member committee that takes crucial decisions about the ongoing protesst. He added that the protesting farmers wanted a permanent solution, not a temporary one.

The farm unions’ reaction came a day after Amarinder Singh said he will launch his own political party ahead of the 2022 Assembly polls and announced that he may ally with the BJP if the farmers’ protest is resolved. The farm bodies, however, shrugged off Amarinder’s decision as his “personal matter” and a “fight to save his political existence”.

Manjit Singh Rai, president of the Doaba Kisan Union, said, “Floating a political party is a personal matter of the former CM. We have nothing to do with it. However, if Amarinder mediates and gets our issues resolved, we will thank him. He has been in talks with farmer unions since the beginning and he is aware of our issues and demands. Let’s see what sort of efforts he makes.”

Buta Singh Burjgill, president of the BKU (Dakaunda), said they got to know Amarinder’s plans through his statements. “We have nothing to do with (his political plans). But if he can help out in getting farm laws repealed, and implementation of MSP across the country, we will be thankful.”

In Punjab’s villages where protests are common against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, farmers’ often say that they have no personal enmity with the PM. “If he (PM) accepts our demands, we will more than welcome him. We have nothing personal against him. It is a protest against farm laws, and he has implemented them,” said a farmer sitting at toll plaza near Samrala area of Ludhiana district.

Ugrahan said so far Amarinder has not approached the farm unions. “So far, we have not been approached by anyone — neither the Union government nor Amarinder.”

He added, “Amarinder needs to have something to approach the public for his new innings, otherwise he will face protests from people.”

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