Updated: January 8, 2021 7:45:07 am
A DAY ahead of the eighth round of talks with farmer organisations to break the deadlock over the new agricultural laws, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday met religious leader Baba Lakha Singh, one of the heads of the Nanaksar Sikh sect based in Punjab. While Baba Lakha Singh, who has been organising langar at the protest sites, said he wished to mediate between the government and the protesting farmers, Tomar played down the meeting and the farm unions said the religious leader wasn’t speaking for them.
Friday’s talks will be between a ministerial committee including Tomar, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash, and 41 representatives of farm organisations. The Agriculture Ministry officials Thursday held informal internal talks to prepare for the meeting. Sources said before the talks in the afternoon, the ministers may call on Home Minister Amit Shah.
With the government insisting that there was no question of agreeing to the farmers’ demand of repeal of the laws, Minister of State, Agriculture, Kailash Choudhary said more reforms were planned for the agriculture sector, and these could also face protests. “The farm unions are agitating under the influence of arhatiyas (commission agents). This is the beginning. Going forward, the pesticide Bill (Pesticides Management Bill, 2020) and seed Bill will also come. At that time too, they (farmers) can be misguided… So, this is the beginning of transformation for farmers,” he said.
Baba Lakha Singh said he had told the farmer unions about his meeting with Tomar, and asked them to get back if they had any message for the government. On what Tomar told him, he said, “It would not be wise to discuss anything in public. It would dilute the purpose.”
Asked how the meeting had come about, he said it was not important if he was invited or met Tomar on own. “What is important that I want this matter resolved. I want to work as a mediator between the government and farmers. I had a good meeting with Tomar,” Baba Lakha Singh said.
The religious leader had extended support to the farmer agitation much before they took their protest to the Delhi borders. He also claims to have known the religious leader of the Nanaksar sect who killed himself on December 17 near Kundli, leaving a suicide note saying he was pained over the suffering of the protesters.
Tomar said they had not given the religious leader any proposal. “The government has said that if there is any proposal other than repeal, it can discuss that.” Asked if he will meet other religious leaders from Punjab to mediate with the protesting farmers, the minister said, “I will meet everyone — be they farmers or leaders.”
Tomar also claimed to have known Baba Lakha Singh from before. “I used to talk to him… But today he came to meet me in Delhi, so it became news.”
Jagmohan Singh Patiala of the BKU (Dakunda) said he was in touch with the 13-14 prominent unions and their leaders and had talked to the Krantikari Kisan Union and the BKU (Rajjewal). “We have not heard from Baba Lakha Singh. There are 31 unions and I don’t know if he has spoken to one or two unions. Be he hasn’t spoken to the prominent 13-14 unions. Also no union has informed about any proposal from Lakha Singh in any of our WhatsApp groups.”
Jagmohan Singh added that a mediator could do little. “We want the laws repealed. What can a mediator do in this situation? If we go back to Punjab without repeal of the laws, we would be like the living dead.”
Baba Lakha Singh, who has his dera in Ludhiana district, is associated with the Sant Samaj, which held influence during the Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab. He was among the invitees for the Ayodhya Ram temple Bhoomi Pujan.
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