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Govt Not Ready for Rollback, to Send us Proposal Instead, Say Farmers After Meeting Amit Shah; No Talks Today

Farmers shout slogans at a protest site during a nationwide strike against the new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi on December 8, 2020. (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)

Farmers shout slogans at a protest site during a nationwide strike against the new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi on December 8, 2020. (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)

Home minister Amit Shah’s meeting with a select group of farmers appeared to have created a discord among the organisations spearheading the protests with the head of the BKU (Ugrahan) questioning the rationale of the talks a day before the official consultations were scheduled.

Union home minister Amit Shah reiterated the government’s position against repealing the new farm laws in a meeting with farmers on Tuesday, following which the sixth round of negotiations scheduled for the next day was cancelled. Leaving the meeting, farmer leaders said the government will instead send a proposal for their consideration, which will be discussed at a noon meeting at the Sindhu border on Wednesday.

“No meeting will be held between farmers and the government tomorrow (Wednesday). The minister has said that a proposal will be given to the farmer leaders. Farmer leaders will hold a meeting over the government’s proposal,” All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah said.

“The government is not ready to take back the farm laws. We will hold a meeting at Singhu border at 12 pm tomorrow,” Mollah added.

Three union ministers who have been leading the government's consultations with the agitating farmers -- agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, food minister Piyush Goyal and MoS for Commerce Som Parkash -- also attended the meeting. Apart from Mollah, the participating farmer leaders included Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

Some farmer leaders said they first expected the meeting would take place at Shah's residence, but the venue was shifted to National Agricultural Science Complex, Pusa. The meeting, which continued till late evening, came on a day a 'Bharat Bandh' observed by farmers to press their demand affected life in some states.

The meeting, however, appeared to have created a discord among the organisations spearheading the protests on Delhi's borders for the past 12 days with the head of the BKU (Ugrahan), which is one of the largest outfits in the bloc, questioning the rationale of the talks a day before the official consultations were scheduled. In a social media post, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who was not invited to the meeting with Shah, said there was no need for the talks before official consultations and hoped that the leaders attending the meet would keep in mind the view of the larger group.

Farmer leaders have been firm on their demand for repeal of three new farm laws enacted in September, which they claim will benefit corporates and end the mandi system and the minimum support price (MSP) regime. "We will demand just a 'yes' or a 'no' from Home Minister Amit Shah," farmer leader Rudru Singh Mansa told reporters earlier in the day at the Singhu border where thousands of farmers have been protesting for the last 12 days.

The government has maintained that it is committed to the welfare of farmers and have presented these laws as major reforms for their benefits.

Peaceful Bandh

Farmers took the national centrestage as their call for a Bharat Bandh' to push for a repeal of the new agri laws led to shops being closed, transport affected and protesters squatting on roads and train tracks in several places. As analysts, politicians and others assessed how effective the 'bandh' had been, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said it was observed in around 10,000 places in 25 states.

Emergency services were exempted and banks, too, continued operations as the pan-India shutdown, backed by most opposition parties and trade unions, rolled out noisily but peacefully with its impact felt in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, the epicentre of the snowballing protests, as well as in states such as Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar. In several parts of the country, including in BJP-ruled Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, life continued unimpeded.

In other places, the pandemic appeared to recede into the background. Security was stepped up, restive crowds demonstrated in some places and the numbers swelled at Delhi's border points. Protesters also blocked railway tracks in places in West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. As slogans such as Kisan Ekta Zindabad were heard in protest centrepoints such as Tikri and the agitation picked up pace, the hashtag #Aaj_Bharat_Bandh_Hai was trending worldwide on Twitter till late afternoon.

From the Rajasthan capital Jaipur, where mandis' were closed but shops open, there were reports of clashes between workers of the state's ruling Congress and the BJP. In Delhi, where most main markets were open, tension spiralled with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleging that Delhi Police had put Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal under house arrest.

City police denied the claim but the party stuck to its guns and said the move was a response to Kejriwal meeting protesting farmers at the Singhu border. "If I was not stopped, I would have gone and supported the protesting farmers in their 'Bharat Bandh' movement. I am glad that 'Bharat Bandh' was a success," Kejriwal said.

’Shift Us to Ramlila Maidan’

Addressing a press conference, farmer leaders said the protestors did not go to Burari ground as it is an "open jail" and demanded that Ramlila Ground be given to them. They stressed that they don't want to trouble the people of Delhi and Haryana.

"We do not want to cause any inconvenience to anyone from Delhi or Haryana, we should be allowed to hold the protest at Ramlila Ground," RS Mansa, Punjab Kisan Union said in a press conference at Singhu (Haryana-Delhi) border.

Oppn to Meet President

Opposition parties are expected to meet President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday evening to raise their concerns about the three farm laws. "Leaders from different political parties (those opposing the farm bills) will sit, discuss and take a collective stand on the contentious farm laws before meeting President Ram Nath Kovind," NCP chief Sharad Pawar told reporters.

The BJP has said that Pawar, who was agriculture minister in the UPA government, had asked states to amend the APMC Act and had even warned them that the Centre will not provide financial assistance in absence of the three reforms. It also cited letters written by Pawar during his tenure as agriculture minister to buttress the point. Hitting back, Pawar said he had suggested only minor changes in the APMC Act.

"I have only said there are some provisions of the APMC which require changes. The APMC Act should continue with minor changes and there are no two ways that I had not written that letter. But there is no reference of APMC in these three (new) laws. This is an attempt to divert attention and this should not be given much importance," he told reporters.