WITH the Budget session of Parliament getting under way, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday chaired an all-party meeting where he said the Government’s offer to keep the implementation of the three farm laws on hold for 18 months is still on the table. And that Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar is just a phone call away for taking forward talks with protesting farmer unions.
This assurance came after almost the entire Opposition, which had boycotted the President’s address yesterday, raised the farm protests issue. Many, including the Congress, demanded the repeal of the laws and a discussion in Parliament.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad flagged FIRs being filed against farm union leaders in connection with the Republic Day violence in Delhi.Leaders like CPM’s Elamaram Kareem, too, raised the FIR issue. To which the Prime Minister reportedly said: “The law will take its own course.”
Condemning the Red Fort incident, Azad said the culprits should be punished but “it seems that the Government instead of catching the real culprits, is trying to implicate the farmer leaders.”
“I don’t think that any sensible farmer leader was party to that incident at the Red Fort,” he reportedly said. “There were some lumpen elements who had done it and those lumpen elements should be caught and punished severely.
All of us, who were watching television, including police, security forces and intelligence agencies, have seen those culprits on TV. However, in the name of violence on January 26, if innocent farmer leaders are framed, then this agitation will grow exponentially which the Government will not be able to manage,” he said.
Azad also demanded that the Government bring a Bill in Parliament immediately for restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Prime Minister told the leaders the government has an “open mind” on the farm laws. “He said that the government’s stand is the same as it was on January 22, and the proposal given by the Agriculture Minister still stands,” an official statement said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, who was present at the meeting, underlined this: “In the 11thCenre-farmer negotiations, we had said that the government is open for discussion. The Prime Minister has said that the Agriculture Minister said he is just a phone call away… whenever you give a call he is ready for discussion. The PM told the political party leaders that the offer still stands good.”
In a bid to break the protracted deadlock, the Government had proposed that it could suspend the laws for 18 months and form a committee to address the issues the farmers have raised. However, farm union leaders rejected the offer and remained firm on their demand for the laws’ repeal.
The Prime Minister’s statement is significant as the government had been silent on resumption of talks since the violence on Republic Day and the forcible entry at Red Fort. In fact, after the Red Fort incident, senior Government officials had indicated “there was not much to discuss.”
But the UP government’s attempt to evict the farmers from the protest site at the Ghazipur border Thursday night has given a fresh lease of life to the agitation with more and more farmers from Western UP — drawing from the politically significant Jat community – joining the protests.
The Prime Minister also told leaders that the government is open to a detailed discussion on issues raised in today’s meeting.
He reaffirmed the importance of the smooth functioning of Parliament and comprehensive debates on the floor of the House. There was a consensus that Parliament must be allowed to function smoothly.
The Opposition demanded discussions on several issues including: the ongoing tension with China at the borders; fuel price rise, ballooning unemployment and the economic slowdown.
TMC’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay said that some 20 Opposition parties had boycotted the President’s address which is a strong message for the Government to withdraw the farm laws.
He said the Prime Minister must convene a meeting of all party leaders on the protests and discuss the issue.
While BJD’s Pinaki Misra demanded that the long pending Women’s Reservation Bill should be taken and passed – he found support from TRS’s K Keshav Rao and YSRCP’s V Vijayasai Reddy – CPM’s Kareem raised the anti-conversion laws in UP that, he said, are meant to deter inter-faith marriage.
Leaders of many smaller parties including TDP, TRS, YSRCP and Akali Dal argued they don’t get adequate time to speak during debates. In his reply, Modi said that frequent disruptions meant smaller parties suffer and larger parties should ensure there are no disruptions and that smaller parties are able to voice their views in Parliament.
Misra said the Parliament should not be disrupted as this would effectively give the ruling party a free pass. While Shiv Sena’s Vinay Rawat demanded free Covid vaccination for all BPL families and UT status for Belgaum in Karnataka, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva raised the attacks on Tamil fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.
YSRCP’s Reddy demanded special category status for Andhra Pradesh and said the inter-linking of rivers must be made a national project wherein river flow must be checked every 15 days.
The Prime Minister condemned the desecration of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in the US and said such an atmosphere of hate is never welcome in today’s world. Sources said many leaders congratulated the Prime Minister for the successful rollout of the Covid vaccination drive.
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