Farmers’ outfits on Monday expressed little hope of a breakthrough in the deadlock over the contentious, reform-oriented farm laws even as their leaders, under the banner of an umbrella body that is leading the ongoing agitations, went back to the negotiating table for the seventh time. The leaders have entered the talks with the government this time after serving an ultimatum to enter the national capital in case the impasse remained unresolved yet again.
The central government has called the representatives of over 40 protesting farmers’ groups for talks on Monday, after reportedly agreeing “in principle” to resolve the peripheral issues raised by the protestors during the last round of talks held on December 30. The talks that began at 2 pm on Monday are still continuing.
However, the farm leaders, coming together to form a Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) to coordinate the protests, have already begun their preparations to step up the pressure on the Centre, saying that the groups have “lost faith” in the negotiations.
“The farmers have lost faith in the ongoing talks with the ministers as the Centre continues with its stubborn attitude over not repealing the laws,” Jhanda Singh Jethuke, senior vice president, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) – Ekta Ugrahan, said on Monday. He added that the union is already preparing to “intensify the agitation,” according to what has been planned out by the SKM for the days to come.
The seven-member coordination committee of SKM, in a press conference held in Delhi’s Press Club of India on Saturday, announced that farmers will march “on the roads of the national capital” on January 26, which is Republic Day. A tractor rally on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) Expressway on January 6, and a “Desh Jagriti Abhiyan” till January 20, along with protest marches to respective Raj Bhavans in all the states on January 23 – all programmes were called as well to keep up the momentum in the run-up to the Republic Day.
“Our union will join the action plan laid out by the [Kisan] Morcha; mobilisation for the same has already begun in the villages,” Jethuke told NewsClick over the phone while on his way to Vigyan Bhavan, where he would represent BKU – Ekta Ugrahan, the largest farm union in Punjab, in the talks with a government panel.
Jehtuke said that the recent three-day tractor rally that covered around 30 villages in multiple districts of Haryana also received a “warm welcome” from the rural residents. “We received a great response from the villagers. We are hoping that thousands of them will join the protesters at the borders in the coming days,” he said.
He added that this participation is expected over and above those who have already started from Punjab to join the protests. “Tractors and trolleys are reaching the protest sites every day. We will not accept anything less than what we are demanding,” Jethuke said.
The key demands of the farmers that are slated to be discussed on Monday include whether or not the Centre will agree to repeal the three farm laws and provide the farmers with a legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for their crop produce.
Introduced through ordinances earlier this year in June and then turned into legislations in September without proper debate in the Parliament, the controversial agriculture reforms have triggered an unanticipated farmers’ agitation across the country. Thousands of farmers are staying put at the outskirts of the national capital – at five key border points that connect the city to its nearby states – for the 40th day on the trot.
On December 30, the Centre had agreed on removing the penal provision over stubble burning and assured to not go ahead with the proposed amendment to the electricity law, which the farmers had been protesting against as well.
Sanjay Madhav, who has been active at the Rajasthan-Haryana border protest where the farmers have blocked the Delhi-Jaipur highway (NH-8), told NewsClick that farmers from Maharashtra’s Nagpur have begun their journey to join the protests. “Around 500 of them are expected to reach here by January 6 or 7,” said the state convenor of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) – Rajasthan.
Madhav added that if no conclusion was reached on the major demands of the protesting farmers then they have prepared to march ahead towards Delhi, as against continuing to stay put some 130 km away from the city, where they currently are. “However, the decision to go ahead or not will largely depend upon what the core committee of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha decides,” he said.
The SKM has already hinted that the farmers will resort to breaking the barricades and march ahead towards the national capital. A section of farmers, which did not wait for the final word from the SKM and instead went ahead on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, was reportedly met with tear gas and chilli grenades by the Haryana Police.
Harpal Singh, organising secretary, BKU (Chaduni), reiterated the hopelessness over the ongoing negotiations. “Our focus is already on the intensification of the protests. We are preparing to gherao the residences of BJP leaders from January 7 to 15 in Haryana,” he said.
Singh rued that despite the agitation already seeing the death of “over 60 protesting farmers” – some of whom have committed suicides, while others could not survive the biting cold – the Centre is “not sincerely” paying heed to the demands of the farmers.
“It seems like the Centre wants more farmers – martyrs – to lose their lives… only God knows how many are enough to make the government reconsider its position,” Singh said.