The Narendra Modi-led government is said to have taken a political call not to yield to the protesting farmers’ demand that the three laws be repealed — but is willing to continue talks with them.
“A repeal is not possible; and a 0-1 binary will not work. The government has given an amendment option. It is also willing to change the wordings of the three laws based on farmer concerns,” said a top government source who is in the know of developments in Krishi Bhawan. “The door for talks is always open.”
On Day 19 of the protests, leaders of 32 farm unions escalated their agitation by observing a day’s hunger strike beginning 8 am at the Singhu border. The police, meanwhile, put up shipping containers using cranes on NH-44 to firm up the barricades already fortified with dumpsters laden with sand and barbed wire to prevent protesters from entering Delhi.
From the Government’s side, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and are also met Home Minister Amit Shah for the second successive day.
Sources said back-channel talks were on with leaders of some of the unions in the group of 32. “Some leaders are willing to understand the need for arriving at a middle path. Not having discussed possible exit options, they are stuck with their maximalist position. But a solution may be in the offing,” the source said without elaborating.
Speaking at a FICCI event, Rajnath Singh said: “The recent reforms have been undertaken with the best interests of India’s farmers in mind… We are, however, always willing to listen to our farmer brothers, allay their misgivings and provide them with assurances. Our Government is always open to discussion and dialogue.”
Describing agriculture as the “mother sector for all”, Singh said, “Our produce and procurement have been plentiful and our warehouses are full…there is no question of taking retrograde steps against our agricultural sector ever,” he said.
Tomar said the Government is “ready to hold talks”. “Whenever their proposal comes, the Government will definitely hold talks,” he said.
Addressing a press conference at the state BJP headquarters Shree Kamalam, Rupala said, “When we are the ones who introduced it, it is not something which requires legal support. It is part of the government system that we created, our Modiji created. There is no need to bring it under legal framework.”
In a parallel move, Tomar also met a delegation of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC) from Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra and Bihar and said “they gave a letter supporting the agriculture reform laws”.
Shetkari Sanghatana leader Gunvant Patil Hangargekar, who was part of the delegation, told The Indian Express: “We told the Agriculture Minister that we support the three farm laws. We have been agitating for the last 30 years for an open market and liberal system. If you want to improve the condition of farmers, then we need reforms…technological reforms, economic reforms and agricultural reforms.”
Tomar had last week met a similar delegation from Uttarakhand as part of the Government’s outreach to farmers from states other than Punjab, which has emerged as the epicentre of the protests.
In another meeting, Tomar held discussions with BJP MPs and MLAs from Haryana who submitted a letter expressing support for the farm laws, and raised an old faultline with Punjab: the issue of sharing water from the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal.
“SYL is the lifeline of Haryana. Haryana farmers have been deprived of their share of 19 lakh acre-foot of water for the last 45 years. The significance of water for irrigation is no less than the MSP. Therefore, the 19 acre-foot of water that is the share of Haryana farmers should be made available from Punjab, so that 19 lakh acres of land in Haryana can be irrigated. The Water Resource Ministry should help in this,” the letter said.
Tomar said the new laws are aimed at “bringing change in the living standard of farmers”. “The policy and intention of the Government of India, behind these laws, are good. We have held meetings with farm unions and tried to convince them. We wish that they discuss (these laws), clause by clause,” he said.
Asked if the Government will invite the farmers for more talks, Tomar said: “Their programmes are going on. We are waiting for their response.”
The previous five rounds of talks have remained inconclusive. The last scheduled round, on December 9, was cancelled after a meeting between Shah and representatives of farm unions.
The Centre then extended a new set of proposals to resolve the crisis, including a written assurance on continuation of minimum support price (MSP)-based procurement and parity in transactions inside and outside Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis.
But the farm leaders rejected these proposals and said that they would escalate their protests until the laws were repealed.
(With Krishn Kaushik in New Delhi and Parimal Dabhi in Gandhinagar)