New Delhi: Deepening the stalemate between the Central government and farmers over the three contentious agricultural laws, Union ministers representing the Centre, hardening their stand, outrightly rejected the protesting peasants’ demands that the legislations be repealed and minimum support price (MSP) be brought under the ambit of a law. The farmer leaders were told if they accept the government’s offer to halt implementation of the three Acts for the next-one-and-a-half years, then only any next round of talks can be held.
“The government is grateful for your cooperation. There is no problem in the farm laws. Still, we made the offer a day before yesterday (January 20) as a sign of respect for farmers. But you could not make a decision. If you reach a decision, inform us. We will discuss this again. No further talks till then,” Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar — according to Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Dharmendra Malik — told the farmers’ delegation at the 11th round of meeting, which was held between the two sides on Friday (January 22).
He said the government finally told the peasant union representatives it cannot and will not repeal the laws.
He further said the minister was upset with farmer unions for issuing a press statement on Thursday (January 21), rejecting the government’s offer.
As the meeting began on Friday at around 12:45 p.m, about 45 minutes later than the scheduled time, senior peasant leaders took strong exception to the Delhi Police allegedly breaking the rear glass of Punjab Kisan Union President Ruldu Singh Mansa’s car near Pragati Maidan when he was driving to Vigyan Bhawan for taking part in the negotiations, misbehaving with All India Kisan Sabha General Secretary Hannan Mollah and alleged threatening phone calls to Krantikari Kisan Union President Darshan Pal.
“We told the ministers this won’t be tolerated, and we won’t be scared with such dirty tricks being played by the government and its proxies,” said Rajinder Singh Deep Singh Wala, vice president of the Kirti Kisan Union.
After registering strong protest against “police highhandedness” and “other pressure tactics”, he said, Balbir Singh Rajewal (president of the Rajewal faction of the Punjab’s Bharatiya Kisan Union) told the three Union ministers (Narendra Tomar, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash) that farmers want a complete repeal of the legislations.
However, he said, the Centre asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the Acts on hold for 12-18 months.
“We told the government that we will not agree to anything other than the repeal of the laws. But the minister asked us to discuss separately again and rethink on the matter and convey the decision,” he said after the meeting concluded.
Rajewal, too, confirmed the developments, adding “nothing happened in today’s meeting”. “We were told that we were given the best possible option. They (the Union ministers) asked us to reconsider the decision once again. If a consensus is reached, they said, the government is ready to discuss. If not, said the ministers, you go your way and we our way,” he said when asked what transpired in the meeting.
He said farmers’ will carry out tractors' parade on the Republic Day (January 26) as planned on the Outer Ring Road. “The ‘Farmers Parade’ will be held peacefully. And if any untoward incident happens, the government and the police will be responsible for it,” he warned, asking the protesters to be vigilant, disciplined and peaceful as the government will “use its agencies to disrupt peace with an aim to discredit the agitation”.
Talking about the outcome of the talks, Haryana’s BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni said the farmer leaders attempted to engage the government on the issue of the MSP. “But the government was not ready to discuss at all. The ministers kept stressing that we first reconsider the government’s offer, which we already rejected yesterday. We replied to them the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions) has rejected it unanimously; therefore, it is useless to ask us to consider the offer again and again. Listening to it, the ministers rose from their seats, telling us that nothing more can be discussed if we are unable to revisit our decision as this is the best the government could offer us,” he added.
Meanwhile, the farmer leaders alleged that even though the meeting lasted for nearly five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 30 minutes
AIKS leader Hannan Mollah described the Centre’s stand as “adamant and insensitive”. “It is the government’s responsibility to break the deadlock, not farmers’. As the meeting began, we conveyed the ministers our decision. After listening to it, they took a break asking us to reconsider the proposal and let them discuss as well. We were made to wait for over three hours. This is an insult to farmers. When they returned, they reiterated the same: consider the government’s proposal. The agriculture minister said he is ending the process of meetings. It is the most insensitive government ever,” he rued.
Apart from proposing that the laws be kept on hold for 18 months or till such time that a proposed committee submits a report, the Centre at January 20 meeting had also offered to set up a joint committee of government and farmer representatives to address the demand that the MSP be legally guaranteed.
The Centre was forced to make the offer because of several reasons: the Supreme Court’s staying the implementation of the laws and appointing a panel of experts as a way out of the government, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, which is the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP) calling for “sensitivity” while dealing with the agitation, several voices disapproving the laws inside the party, possible embarrassment because of the proposed tractor rally on the Republic Day and Opposition parties getting an issue to corner the government during the upcoming Budget Session of Parliament.