New Delhi: There is no sight of an end to the impasse yet, as the marathon seventh round of talks between farmer leaders and the government once again ended inclusively on Monday, with the farmers firm on their demand for repeal of the three farm laws and assurance of a legal guarantee for MSP.
As the seventh round of negotiations began, the government proposed holding a ‘clause by clause’ discussion on the three agricultural laws, but the farmers’ representatives refused to engage in any such discussion, saying that the government is trying to run in circles and is not willing to come to a conclusion that’s favourable to farmers.
Since late last month, braving spine-chilling cold and heavy rainfall, hundreds and thousands of farmers are camping on highways outside Delhi’s borders to protest the controversial agricultural “reforms”. While the government says the new laws are necessary to deregulate and modernise the agriculture sector, which is the primary source of income for 58% of population, the agitating peasants say they were not consulted when the “reforms” were pushed through and the changes will make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporates. The standoff entered in its 40th day on Monday.
After the conclusion of the meeting held in Vigyan Bhawan, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) general secretary Hannan Mollah claimed that the government was under “tremendous pressure”.
“All of us reiterated our demand in one voice: repeal the laws and bring the MSP under the ambit of a law. We don’t want discussion on any other topic except on repeal of the laws. Our protests will continue until the laws are scrapped,” he told NewsClick.
Describing what transpired in the meeting, Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh National Coordinator Abhimanyu Kohar said it started by paying homage to the farmers who had lost their lives during the ongoing protest.
“Our senior leaders demanded that the farmers who have sacrificed their lives during the ongoing protest be paid a tribute before the talks begin. Everyone agreed and observed silence for two minutes for the departed souls. This was important because when the same demand was raised in the previous round of talks, the agriculture minister (Narendra Tomar) had said: “Jo hatahat hue hain, humen unka bahut dukh hai. Shabd hatahat se hum bhi bahut ahat hue (We are deeply pained by the casualties. We, along with the entire farming community, were also pained by the usage of the word ‘casualty’)”. Since the government had refused to acknowledge the deceased as martyrs, we decided that the martyr farmers would first be paid homage, then any negotiation would begin. We also pledged that the protest will go on till the government accepts our demands in entirety,” he said.
Kohar said the farmer leaders made it clear that there was only one end to the standoff: repeal the three laws and give MSP a legal guarantee.
“The government tried to play with words and run in circles. They (the ministers) tried to persuade us to hold clause by clause discussion on the three farm laws. As earlier, they also tried to convince us that the legislations are in farmers’ interest by attempting to explain its so-called benefits. But our senior leaders asked them straightway not to complicate the talks and give a final word on whether or not they agree to our demands. In response, the other side put forward its arguments. We, too, shot back with relevant facts to support our demands,” he said.
Kohar said the government side then asked the representatives of farmer unions to suggest an alternative to the demand of roll-back. “We maintained our consistent position that there is no alternative other than scrapping the three laws and a legal guarantee for MSP. When the government realised that it had miserably failed to break us, the ministers sought time to take instructions from their superiors. The next round of talks will be held on January 8,” he added.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said: “We have told the government that we will not return to our homes until it repeals the laws. We will sit with the government again on January 8 and hold discussions.”
Meanwhile, the Agriculture Minister told the media that the government wanted farmer unions to discuss the three laws clause-wise and could not reach any solution as farmer unions remained adamant on the repeal of the laws.
“Looking at today’s discussion, I hope we will have a meaningful discussion during our next meeting and will come to a conclusion,” he said.
The farmer leaders had already predicted before engaging in the latest round of talks that successful discussions had little chance.
“With senior ministers making wrong claims, speaking against farmers’ demands, the success of talks have little chance,” the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of over 300 farmer unions, had said in an official statement earlier on Monday.
The unions also condemned the “increases in repression” on protesting farmers and warned of large gatherings and wider protests and called the government “anti-farmer, insensitive and undemocratic”, highlighting the incidents of tear gas shelling and spraying irritant chilli powder on advancing farmers in Rewari by the Haryana Police on January 3, the Punjab Police baton-charging of KKU activists protesting against Members of Parliament belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh continuing to ban protests and dharnas (sit-ins) using COVID as an “excuse” and Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) filing an affidavit in the Punjab and Haryana High Court as a “ploy to save its business interests”.
"The Reliance industry's affidavit is full of false claims of it not entering the crop market and taking over farm land. In Raigarh, Maharashtra, and other places, large tracts of land have been taken over by Reliance and it must return all those before making any false claim," AIKSCC said in a statement.