Seemingly exasperated over the obduracy displayed by the agitating farmer unions despite the conciliatory offer to put the three farm laws in abeyance for 18 months, the Centre on Friday hardened its stance and conveyed to the unions that it can’t yield any more, causing further uncertainty over when and how the eight-week-long strike will end.
With the farmer groups clinging to the maximalist position that nothing less than the abrogation of the laws would be acceptable to them, both sides could not even decide on the date of the next round of talks.
Addressing the media after a five-hour, 11th round meeting with farmer leaders, in which confabulations actually occurred for just half an hour, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said: “The government has been talking to farmers since October and made several proposals (to resolve the impasse) with a view to allaying their fears and apprehensions. We have requested them to consider the last proposal to hold back the implementation of the laws for 12-18 months, which is a better proposal (than all others) and continue the discussions by forming a committee. If the people (who spearhead the agitation) really want the farmers to benefit, they would have definitely accepted our proposal.”
The minister, sounding vexed, added: “Some people, who are used to oppose all good works, are creating misunderstanding between government and farmers…they are using the current protest for their own political benefits. Due to this, we have not been able to reach any conclusion. I am disappointed.”
According to sources, Friday’s meeting started over one-and-half-hour behind schedule and within 15 minutes after it started, the panel of three ministers left the room after asking the farmer leaders to decide on their stance. This was despite the fact that the unions had communicated their decision to reject the government’s offer to hold back the laws. When the ministers did not return for long, farmer leaders went for lunch and the post-lunch meeting got delayed. When the ministers returned to the room in the evening, the meeting lasted for about 5-10 minutes and Tomar thanked all farmer leaders for the participation in the talks so far. He lamented that despite the best possible offer the government could have, other than repeal of laws, the farmer leaders have not agreed. He also conveyed that no date will be fixed for the next round of meeting.
During the brief discussion in the pre-lunch session, Tomar is learnt to have said that the government is ready to form two separate committees, one on farm laws and another on legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP) in which farmer unions will also have representation. This proposal was also turned down by the union leaders.
“We want a permanent mechanism and the holding back of laws is a temporary arrangement. Why can’t the laws be repealed?” asked Rajinder Singh of Kirti Kisan Union. “We are yet to see the Swaminathan committee formula on MSP (C2+50%) is accepted by the government even after 15 years passed after its report was given,” Singh said, expressing doubts about the efficacy of such panels.
Farmer leaders who have held several rounds of talks with the Delhi Police on Wednesday and Thursday have reiterated that they will not withdraw their plan to take out a tractor rally on the Republic Day, on the outer ring road of Delhi. The Delhi Police is yet to permit the rally.
Some farmer leaders on the condition of anonymity said they had not expected such a stand from the government and there was a “surprise element” in it. They were expecting some negotiation to take place on the proposal so that they could have bargained. But the panel of ministers, which includes commerce and food minister Piyush Goyal and minister for state for commerce Som Prakash, was in no mood to continue the dialogue, said a farmer leader who was present in the meeting. Tomar also expressed his displeasure that the farmer unions had made their decision to reject the offer public even before Friday’s talks.
A statement issued by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of the agitating unions, had said on Thursday: “In a full general body meet, the proposal put forth by the government yesterday was rejected. A full repeal of the three central farm Acts and enacting a legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers was reiterated as the pending demands of the movement.”
On January 12, the Supreme Court had stayed the implementation of the farm laws and asked a committee constituted by it to submit its report within two months.