Updated: January 23, 2021 7:51:27 am
Talks between the Centre and farmer unions demanding the repeal of the new agriculture laws broke down Friday after weeks of negotiation. The government made it clear to the farmers that its proposal to suspend the laws for 18 months was the “best” it could offer, and farmers could return to the talks table after a rethink.
The hardening of the Centre’s position was evident when, at the very start of the meeting, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar objected to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s announcement Thursday evening that the farmer unions had rejected the Centre’s offer to suspend the laws.
It is learned that Tomar told the unions that since the talks were scheduled Friday, they should have communicated their decision to the government instead of announcing it to the media first.
Tomar and his colleagues Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash, it is learned, left the meeting room after telling the farmer representatives to reconsider the Centre’s offer. Tomar returned later and told the unions they could discuss among themselves and let the government know Saturday.
Responding to a reporter’s query on what would happen if the farmers don’t return with a decision, Tomar said: “I am not an astrologer. What will happen tomorrow, I don’t know.”
With the Centre hardening its position and no new date set for the next round of talks, the spotlight now is on the run-up to January 26 when farmers intend to hold a tractor parade on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road. Police have already denied permission for the tractor parade within city limits in view of heightened security arrangements for Republic Day.
The breakdown of talks also sets the stage for a stormy Budget session of Parliament where the Opposition will try to corner the government and the ruling party over the farmer protests.
Emerging from the meeting, which lasted barely 30 minutes with long breaks for lunch and tea, Tomar said: “We told them that our proposal to put on hold the implementation of laws for one or one-and-a-half years is the best proposal. You should reconsider. That proposal is in the interest of farmers and the country. We told them that we are concluding the talks today and if you arrive at any decision, tell us tomorrow. We can meet at any place to announce that decision.”
He said there are some forces which do not want the issue resolved. “Farmers, especially from Punjab and very few farmers from one or two states, announced protests against the agri-reform laws. There has been a constant attempt to spread misconceptions among farmers and the public, and taking advantage of these misconceptions, some people, who are in the habit of opposing every good work, are using farmers for their political interest. This has led to the current situation,” he said.
Buta Singh Burjgill, president of BKU (Dakaunda), said: “The government told us to accept their proposal, and that they are not going to repeal the laws. They did not give any date for the next meeting, but told us that they will always come to a place where we call a meeting for a discussion. Now our focus is on the tractor parade and it will be held peacefully. Next, there is the Budget session in Parliament… These laws came from Parliament and their repeal can also come from the same Parliament. Our protest will continue.”
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, in a statement released by Krantikari Kisan Union leader Darshan Pal, said: “The deadlock again arose in the meeting with the central government today. The government came with the proposal to suspend these laws for 18 months, while the farmers demanded the repeal of the laws.” On the tractor parade plan, it said police officers had given them a roadmap and leaders of the unions would reply after a meeting Saturday.
Tomar said the government adopted a sensitive approach towards farmers and thought of their interest. He said “a sense to take a decision in the interest of farmers was lacking (among unions) … When the sanctity of a movement is destroyed, then no decision can be reached (Jab andolan ki pavitrata nasht ho jaati hai, tab koi nirnay nahi hota hai)”.
Asked about the options before the government if farmer unions do not reconsider the offer and intensify their protest, Tomar said: “Whatever best options we had, those have been given to the farmer unions.”
Jagjit Singh Dallewal, president of BKU (Sidhupur), said: “We discussed the government’s proposal Thursday. We are not divided… We came here for repeal and will not go back without getting this demand fulfilled.”
“We are aware that Parliament’s Budget session is to start… the Parliament session and the biggest farmer movement in the country will continue side by side. We hope Opposition parties will play their role this session,” he said.
Darshan Pal said: “Anything on the government’s stand will be discussed after the Republic Day tractor parade.”
Leaders of most unions said their focus now is on the tractor parade planned for January 26, and that more people were headed to the borders of Delhi from Punjab.
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