New Delhi: A majority of protesting farmers at Delhi’s borders do not seem to be in a mood to agree to the government’s offer for a one-and-a-half year stay on the three contentious farm laws. Even though farmers' unions said they were open to discussing the issue and would get back to the government, the sense on the ground -- be it in Ghazipur, Singhu, Tikri etc., is in favour of nothing less than repeal.
"Actual negotiations have now begun," said a farmer leader of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 peasant unions which is in talks with the government, indicating that they would reject the government proposal of postponement of the three contentious agricultural laws and stick to their stated position, which is withdrawal of the legislations and legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
‘Bill wapasi, tab ghar wapasi’, Say Farmers in Ghazipur Border
The Centre’s proposal has failed to evoke positive responses from cultivators camping at the Ghazipur border, who cite their years of “ordeal” with the government machinery as a reason to not “trust” those in power.
The government is clearly under immense pressure to repeal the farm laws, said 55-year-old Atar Singh. “Do it right now,” he added.
“Why must we wait for over a year or so, when we won’t budge for anything less than what we are rightfully demanding for months now,” the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) member from Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura argued. According to him, the offer to suspend the implementation is nothing but “yet another trick of the government's playbook to ensure the lifting of our morchas.”
It has been nearly two months since thousands of farmers are staying put at the gates of Delhi blocking the highways that connect the national capital to its adjoining states - Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.
Echoing Singh’s views, Rajender Singh of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tikait) said: “We cultivate sugarcane, so ask us because we know this government very well. They can drag an issue for years if it suits them in the same manner that they have delayed our payments.”
“We don’t trust the government, the 62-year-old from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat said, adding: “They can constitute as many committees as they want; however, they must remember that this is not what farmers are demanding.”
Babu Mohan Singh, 60, from UP’s Pilibhit city, had similar views, but said the “final decision” had been left with leaders of farmer unions. “It is their job to decide whether to accept the offer or not; we are here to feed the protesters. We shall do whatever our leaders decide.”
On Wednesday, after the tenth round of talks with the Centre, the representatives of the 40 negotiating farmers’ groups had said that discussions with other protesting groups, who all have come together under an umbrella body of 400 odd unions, namely, Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, will be held on the offer. The Centre shall be conveyed of their decision on January 22.
Even as the offer didn’t find many takers among the rank-and-file farmers, some suggested, again driven by mistrust against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, that they would be willing to accept the suspension offer, only if the period that is being proposed is “at least till 2024”
One among them, who vouched for the same, was Jaswant Singh, 60, from Uttarakhand’s Sitarganj city. “If the government suspends the farm laws till 2024 then we have no problem.”
The next Lok Sabha election is scheduled in the same year. Singh, who would press for the suspension of laws till then, was of the view that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government doesn’t stand a chance to come to power, especially after all the “anti-people” policies that it has unleashed.
“The farmers will make sure that the people who brought the kaale kanoon don't come to power once again,” said Singh.
Meanwhile, preparations for the Republic Day “tractor parade” continue, with protesting farmers claiming that “lakhs of tractors” will reach the borders of Delhi by January 25 to partake in the rally the next day.
Manu Dev Chaturvedi, 52, who retired from Border Security Force (BSF) in 2019 and has been tilling on his three bigha land back in Banaras, said that the scheduled parade shouldn’t be called off because of what the Centre has now offered.
“The farmers were protesting in Punjab and Haryana since September; the government only agreed to amend the laws when they all reached the Delhi borders. Now, we have been camping here since so long. However, the Centre agreed to suspend the laws only when we announced that we will enter the national capital,” said Chaturvedi, who claimed to have joined the agitation at Ghazipur border since mid-December under the banner of Veteran’s Association.
Having said this, he suggested that repeal of the farm laws was not a “far off” possibility anymore. “Jab tak bill wapasi nahi, tab tak ghar wapasi nahi - the farmers must all stick to this only.”
‘Repeal, Nothing Else’, Say Farmers in Tikri
Daya Singh has just reached the camp of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) at the Tikri border after a two-day journey on his Atlas bicycle from Patiala district in Punjab. Singh, who works as a sevadar in a local gurudwara and collects grains from homes at the end of the season, is miffed with the latest government proposals about suspending the farm laws for 18 months and the subsequent submission of an affidavit in the Supreme Court.
Talking to NewsClick, Singh said: ”It’s bizarre to say that the union ministers are talking about submitting an affidavit before the Supreme Court. Did it ask Supreme Court before enacting the laws? Did it ask farmers’ organisations before it went ahead with laws unilaterally? It’s all crap. The farmers are asking for repeal, nothing else.”
When asked for comment on the second proposal of forming a committee regarding conflict over minimum support price (MSP), Singh said: ”I do not understand if there should be any dispute about this. The farmers are demanding the price of produce as per the Swaminathan Commission formula. The farmers have always been in loss. Be it potato, onion or anything else. We want the continuation of APMC (mandi system). Had the Union ministers grown crops, they would have known our misery and loss. If they think we will run out of energy or patience, they should know that we brave harsh weather of Magh and Paush in our fields.”
When asked about the way out of debt for farmers, the farmer said: ”Nobody can pull us out of debt if there are no fair prices (for crops). No government will forego our loans. On the one hand, the government claims about foregoing our loans, on the other hand, bank employees hound families of farmers, some of whom committed suicide.”
Harjit Singh, flaunting his huge tractor ‘Belarus 510,’ imported from Belarus for Rs 15 lakh, said that the proposal for suspending laws for two years is more oriented toward applying a brake on momentum of the farmers’ movement.
“The movement has spread across the country and the government wants to slow the momentum. Once we return, it would be difficult for people to come back again in large numbers. We have put in a lot of effort into the movement and will not go back till the laws are repealed.”
Harinder Kaur Bindu, also from BKU (Ugrahan), maintained that the union ministers advanced a “pointless agenda” for consideration. Sitting in the camp behind the stage with other workers, she said: “It did not say anything about Electricity Act, penalising provisions on stubble burning and Swaminathan Commission formula. The concerning part is about the mediation of Supreme Court in the struggle. The laws affect the common people of the country. The court is for people, not otherwise. It’s a direct struggle between the farmers and the government.”
When asked about insistence of the government on implementing the laws, she said: ”The laws are result of agreements it signed with World Trade Organisation. Now, the MNC and corporate companies are arm- twisting (Prime Minister) Modi to go ahead as per the agreements.”
When asked about the future course of action, Bindu said: “We will take out our tractor march on January 26. As far as future actions are concerned, I think the movement has empowered people about their rights. They can compel any government to listen to them and accept their demands.”
Actual Talks Have Now Begun, Say Leaders in Singhu
"Actual negotiations have now begun," said a farmer leader of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of 40 peasant unions which is in talks with the government, indicating that they would reject the government proposal of postponement of the three contentious agricultural laws and stick to their stated position, which is withdrawal of the legislations and legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
During the 10th round of meeting between the two sides on January 20 at Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan, the government (represented by Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash) offered representatives of the 40 farmer unions to stay implementation of the laws for one-and-a-half years and constitute a committee comprising farmer leaders to make recommendations on the MSP.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Yudhvir Singh indicated farmer leaders may reject the offer and continue to stick to their demands.
"There is nothing new in the proposal. The government had earlier too suggested stay of the laws without specifying any time period. It is not ready to hold a meaningful discussion on the MSP. We demand its legal, but the government since day one is sticking on forming a panel to discuss the same," he said, clearing the air that "nothing less than roll back of the laws is acceptable".
"Farmers have been laying a siege at Delhi's borders (five gates of the national capital) for a stay. We want repeal, nothing more and nothing less," he said and claimed "there is a general consensus among almost all the major farmer unions that no one will return till the laws are rolled back", he said, after a go ahead following the SKM’s meeting, which was going on. The government will be conveyed about the decision in Friday’s talks.
"Initially, the government was not ready to even acknowledge us as farmers. But now, they have come to this stage. Tomorrow, they will further relent. If the government still does not budge, farmers from South India will join us after Baisakhi. We are prepared for a long haul," he concluded.
Another prominent farmers' leader claimed the government is under "huge pressure" because of the proposed peasants' parade in the national capital on the Republic Day (January 26).
"We are of the opinion that the government has decided to relent; and therefore, it has proposed to stay the laws for some time. So, we will continue to maintain our stated position to force it to accept it," he added, saying that it's his personal opinion, but the joint decision of all unions is sacrosanct".
Majority of the union leaders, NewsClick spoke to, expressed the same view.
‘We Don’t Trust This Government...’
Another farmer leader said there was a “very strong trust deficit” between the two sides; therefore, accepting the proposal and evict the protest sites is a little difficult.
Reminded that Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar has even offered that the government is ready to file an affidavit with regard to the postponement of the laws for the stated period with an aim to dispel any doubt, he said: "The government does not have a good track record. It has back-tracked earlier, disregarding its own words. What happened to Nashik-Mumbai march? What happened to the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations. The government did not even follow what a statuary commission had recommended."
Around 50,000 farmers had marched to Mumbai from Nashik in February 2019, covering a distance of 180 km on foot to gherao the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. The protest was called off after the then Maharashtra Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis accompanied by the state's chief secretary met the agitators at Azad Maidan and accepted their demands.
The peasants were assured that water flowing Maharashtra's rivers will be transferred to the Godavari Basin via lift irrigation to help the drought-hit areas. Their other demands too had been accepted. But none of these were ever implemented.
The farmers also said their demands would have been accepted much earlier had Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal not been in the negotiation panel.
"Since Narendra Tomar has a farming background, he understands our grievances. But it is Goyal who always talks like a corporate. And Tomar works on his advice," at least two of them said.
TRACTOR PARADE: TALKS WITH COPS INCONCLUSIVE
Talks between the Delhi Police and farmer unions over the proposed tractor parade at Delhi's Outer Ring Road ended inclusive, with peasant leaders rejecting the alternate route (KMP Expressway) offered to them.
"Farmers will take out tractor's parade as announced. And the rally will be organised peacefully on the Outer Ring Road. Nearly one lakh tractors will take part in the parade," Yogendra Yadav, member of the SKM said.
When asked whether they will go ahead with the Delhi Police does not give them permission, BKU's Yudhvir Singh threatened it would lead to "confrontation".
"Farmers are prepared with their tractors for the parade, which will be organised at any cost. If the police tries to disturb it, confrontation may take place. And I don't think any government will take such a big risk to create any law and order situation on the Republic Day. If any violence occurs, it will malign the country's image. Therefore, we expect the police to let the parade happen peacefully," he added.
Ask as to why they are adamant of holding the parade in Delhi, they said the government would agree to their demands after seeing the number of people supporting our cause.
"It is the voters base the BJP is always scared of. The government is still underestimating this mass protest. They will bend and give-in after seeing the head count in the parade," they added.