Updated: January 22, 2021 10:05:22 am
Drawing the hard line to press for the repeal of the new agriculture laws, farmer unions Thursday rejected the Centre’s offer to keep the laws in abeyance for 18 months and form a joint committee to address grievances.
The unions, scheduled to return to the talks table Friday, were virtually split down the middle at a meeting to discuss the Centre’s offer. Sources told The Indian Express that of the 32 unions from Punjab, more than a dozen were in favour of accepting the offer, but the majority vote carried the resolution to reject the offer.
A statement on behalf of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of organisations spearheading the protest, released by Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union, stated: “In a full general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha today, the proposal put forth by the Government yesterday was rejected. A full repeal of three central farm acts and enacting a legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers were reiterated as the pending demands of the movement.”
The Morcha, the statement said, “pays homage to the 143 farmers who have been martyred in this movement so far… Their sacrifice will not go in vain and we will not go back without the repealing of these farm laws”.
It referred to a meeting with Delhi Police officers earlier in the day and said while police had requested the farmers not to conduct a tractor parade in Delhi on Republic Day, they had reiterated that they intend to go ahead with their plan of a parade on the Outer Ring Road of Delhi.
Maintaining that their protest was becoming a “people’s movement… nationwide”, the Morcha said farmers were uniting in Karnataka, many parts of Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Bilaspur and Rampur in Uttarakhand. “Farmers, labourers and common people under the leadership of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan are reaching Shahjahanpur border. Protests against neo-liberal policies are being conducted through puppets shows and songs,” it said.
Ahead of the meeting of the Morcha, the Kisan Ekta Morcha, in a Twitter post, had said “jis kaam ke liye aaye thhe, usko poora kiye bina wapas nahi jayenge (we will not go back till we complete the work for which we had come)”.
Rakesh Tikait, president of BKU (Tikait) and one of the spokespersons for the Morcha, said: “We came here to get the laws repealed. After long deliberations, we came to this conclusion that we will not return till the laws are repealed. We can stay here for six more months, it hardly matters to us. People have trust issues with the government. What if they implement these laws again after a stay for a short period? We, therefore, decided to reject the proposals of the government.”
“On MSP, we will tell them to make an Act to assure minimum support price for the produce of farmers. Regarding the Republic Day tractor parade, we will be meeting Delhi Police again on Friday, though they have denied us permission for the parade on Outer Ring Road,” he said.
Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary of BKU (Dakaunda), said: “We had a meeting of 32 farmer unions of Punjab in which we decided to reject the government proposal to stay these laws for one-and-a-half years. A similar consensus was reached at the meeting of the SKM as well in the evening. We came for the repeal of the farm laws and will not settle for anything less.”
Buta Singh Burjgill, president of BKU (Dakaunda), said: “We discussed many aspects. What if the government is asked to increase the duration of the stay on these laws from one-and-a-half years to a minimum 4 years, so that they cannot implement them during this term? What if this government returns to power again? These laws will be hanging like a sword… It will not be so easy to start another farmer movement such as this soon, so nothing less than repeal of these laws is acceptable to us.”
Leaders of unions said their focus now is on the tractor parade planned for January 26. Earlier in the day, Delhi Police asked farmer leaders to reconsider the proposed route of the tractor parade.
Police suggested that the tractor parade be held at the protest sites at Singhu or Tikri or on the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways.
Farmer unions said they will not go towards Rajpath, the venue of the Republic Day parade, and will restrict themselves to the Outer Ring Road. They said they will hold the rally on a 16-17 km stretch on the Outer Ring Road.
The unions are scheduled to meet the Centre again Friday. Several factors appeared to have forced the government to make the offer to put the laws on hold and end the protests.
Sources pointed to the Supreme Court’s move to stay the implementation of the farm laws for the time being, the signal from the RSS for an early resolution — RSS Sarkaryawah Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi’, in an interview to The Indian Express, called for “sensitivity” in dealing with the farmer agitation and said a “middle ground must be found and both sides must work to find a solution” – and the realisation within the ruling party not to give issues that could unite the Opposition during the Budget session.
Moreover, several BJP party leaders have said that there could have been more deliberations on the farm Bills or these could have been sent to a House panel once objections were raised since that would have weakened the opposition to the laws.
The Supreme Court’s stand that Delhi Police should decide on the entry of protesting farmers into Delhi on Republic Day was also a factor that prompted a rethink.
But there are others in the party who think that a climbdown is a bad precedent. “Once you take a U-turn on a major reform, there will always be pressure against every move. If you give up once, you will be forced to do so on other issues as well,” a party leader said.
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