Talks between the Centre and farmer unions opposed to the new agriculture laws remained inconclusive Monday over two key demands — repeal of the newly enacted laws and provision of legal guarantee on the minimum support price — with the two sides drawing the hard line on their respective positions.
The talks will resume on January 8 when the two sides sit across the table for what will be the eight round of negotiations ever since the protests that brought farmers from Punjab and Haryana to the gates of Delhi on November 26.
Meanwhile, two Punjab BJP leaders, Surjeet Kumar Jyani and Harjeet Singh Grewal, who have been in mediation with the farmers, will be meeting the Prime Minister Tuesday evening.
Jyani said: “Grewal and I had sought time from the PM. He has called us to his camp office at 5.45 pm Tuesday.” Jyani is chairman of an eight-member panel of BJP leaders, including Grewal, coordinating with the farmer unions. In Delhi since November 28, they returned to Punjab a few days ago.
Emerging from the meeting with the unions Monday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters, “We wanted a clause-wise discussion on the laws, so that we could proceed on the way forward. The discussion was mainly centred on this. We discussed the issue of MSP briefly, but could not arrive at a decision. Therefore, the government and the unions decided to meet again on January 8 to take the discussions forward.”
“The meeting was cordial but could not find a way forward as they (farmer leaders) were adamant on the demand for repeal of the Acts. But I hope the way the discussions took place today, meaningful deliberations will again take place at the next meeting and, possibly, we will find a solution,” he said.
“Swabhavik roop se raasta nikalne ke liye toh taaliyaan donon hi haath se bajaate hain na (Naturally, we have to meet half-way to find a way forward) … The legal aspect of the problem and the entire country needs to be kept in mind. There are crores of farmers in the country and they have their own views. Their interests are linked to the advantages or disadvantages of the laws. The government is committed to farmers across the country. Therefore, when the government has to decide, it will keep in mind the entire country,” he said in response to questions.
Farmer union leaders said they made it very clear to the government that the talks will have to be on their demand for repeal of the new laws.
BKU (Ugrahan) president Joginder Singh Ugrahan said: “Today, we became very strict when we were told again to discuss the benefits of the farm laws. We told them we had said earlier as well that our talks will only be on the repeal of the Acts, nothing else. They told us that farmers in the rest of the country are happy. At this, we asked them what they think of people who have been sitting on roads since September. Nearly 500 farmer unions of India are protesting, don’t they recognise any of them?”.
“The next meeting is on January 8. Talks will only be on the repeal and guarantee on MSP. We told them that if they don’t want to discuss this issue, they should not call us. But after a detailed discussion, they asked us to come again on January 8. We even told them to make the main decision-making authority sit at the meeting, one who can decide the matter. They did not respond to this,” he said.
Kirti Kisan Union general secretary Rajinder Singh Deepsinghwala said: “Today, the Union Ministers observed a two-minute silence with us in memory of 70 farmers who have left us (died) during morchas since September. We call them martyrs… The government wants to discuss the laws with us clause-wise, but we have one line for them: no appeal, no daleel, only repeal. The government said they have walked ten steps forward and we too should move a little, but we rejected it categorically.”
Punjab Kisan Union president Ruldu Singh Mansa said: “Although the meeting today did not yield a result, we could judge that the government’s attitude was soft. We told them to discuss only the repeal of the Acts at the next meeting. We are hopeful they will walk only in that direction.”
BKU (Dakaunda) president Buta Singh Burjgill said: “The Agriculture Minister told us that majority farmer unions are happy with the farm laws. We told them to arrange our meeting with them. They gave no answer. We call these unions part of the kisan cells of the BJP and alliance parties.”
All Indian Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah said: “We told the government that there will be no talk except on the repeal (of farm laws) … We will discuss the repeal first. The issue of MSP will be taken up thereafter.”
At the meeting, Tomar along with two ministerial colleagues — Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash — led the government side while farmer unions had 41 representatives.
At their last meeting on December 30, the Centre agreed to “decriminalise” stubble burning by excluding farmers from the ambit of the ‘Commission for the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020’, and drop those provisions of the draft Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, which intend to change the existing mode of subsidy payment to consumers.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of farmer unions camping at the gates of Delhi to press their demands, told the press last Saturday that if their demands are not met by January 26 – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to be chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations this year – farmers will lead a tractor parade into Delhi.