On Tuesday afternoon, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh initiates the first rounds of talks with protesting farmers, the government expects him to pacify the farmers and rope them in for “constructive talks” and find a “middle path” to resolve the crisis, sources said.
The decision to field Singh — considered to be moderate and pro-farmer leader in the ruling BJP — was taken in the morning when Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Singh met at BJP president J P Nadda’s residence. His experience as a negotiator during difficult situations concerning farmers was also factored in, a BJP source said. In October 2018, when thousands of farmers had marched towards Delhi as part of the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s ‘Kisan Kranti Padyatra’, it was Singh – then the Home Minister – who held several rounds of talks with the farmers after the protest turned violent.
Last night, the government released an official note saying Tomar would hold discussions with the farmers at Vigyan Bhavan at 3 pm today. In the morning, however, the government decided to pitch Singh for the talks.
“This round of talks is considered to be a pacifying round. The government is expecting several rounds of talks before the issue is resolved,” said a source familiar with the developments. Sources in the BJP pointed out while the home minister, who is known for his sharp organising skills and political acumen, is not considered to be a good negotiator, Singh had emerged as the political troubleshooter for the BJP in the last few years.
“The government cannot afford the talks to collapse in the first round itself. We need to keep them engaged in talks so that a middle path could be found,” said the source.
The middle path is needed because the government is no mood to withdraw the controversial farm laws against which the farmers are protesting. However, with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) being the key concern of the farmers, the government could consider making it binding in the law, not through an amendment but via an executive order while framing the rules for the laws, sources said.
“It should not be an issue as both the government and the party are committed on MSPs,” said a BJP leader. “Anyway, talks means give and take from both sides. We are sure the farmers are also aware of that,” the leader added.
So, in Tuesday’s conversation, Singh is expected to “test the temperatures” and try and persuade the farmers to call off the ‘Rasta Roko strike announced for December 3. “If we manage to do that it would be a huge success. But even if the farmers agree to talk without condition, that is also a step forward,” said the source.
Even as the BJP leaders maintain it’s a “political protest” confined to Punjab and Haryana, the party leadership wants to ensure that it does not snowball into a nationwide agitation. Protesting farmers have already said they will be joined by their counterparts from states like Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. “The party does not want that at any cost. As long as it is in the opposition-ruled states, we can say its political and the opposition is sponsoring it. But it will be tough to handle it if it spreads,” a source pointed out.
Singh would provide the feedback in the high-level group of ministers, who would then work out a “formula” to resolve the issue. That would be further forwarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his approval before it is taken back to the farmers, sources added.