Chai Par Charcha has been the ticket to BJP's success in the Narendra Modi era, but the humble tea could not salvage the Modi government's effort to woo protesting farmers on Tuesday.
During the all-important meeting with 35 farmer union leaders at Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan, Union agriculture minister Narendra Tomar tried to defuse tensions by taking a tea break 90 minutes after the meeting began. By then, the government had tried to explain the merits of three farm laws at the heart of the protests but the farmer leaders were not impressed.
One representative, Roop Singh Sanna, later told News18, "We were expecting home minister Amit Shah or defence minister Rajnath Singh and an out-of-the-box solution. Instead came the same old assurances which we had already rejected."
Farmers were so angry that they refused to leave the Vigyan Bhawan hall for tea outside with the ministers. "We told Tomar sahab in anger that we don't want your tea as your press will say we are enjoying pakodas with you. You come and enjoy jalebi in our langar instead,” Punjab Kisan Union leader Rundu Singh told News18 after the meeting.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Chanda Singh said, “In the November 13 meeting, we had said what we wanted. We were expecting the government to come up with a proposal today to resolve the problem. No such thing was done. So in anger, we refused their tea. The agriculture minister tried to persuade us a lot, but we were upset.”
The farmer leaders wanted the agriculture minister to visit the protest sites and show him that protesters had come prepared for the long haul and the strategy of wearing them down by buying more time on the negotiation table won't work. "Even the tea he is offering comes from the milk of our dairy farms. We can give him jalebi, laddoo, chai everything, but we will not end our protest till our demands are met," Prem Singh said.
The government had offered to make a committee with 4-5 farmer representatives, government representatives and agricultural experts to discuss the farm laws. But the proposal was unanimously rejected by the farmer leaders.
The government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture. At the nearly three-hour-long meeting at Vigyan Bhawan, agriculture minister Tomar was accompanied by railways minister Piyush Goyal and MoS for Commerce Som Parkash, also an MP from Punjab.
BKU Ugrahan faction leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan summed up the mood after the meeting. Speaking to News18, he said, “Meeting itni acchhi rahi ki juttam-juti nahi hui. Na sarkar ne humse kuch liya, na hume kuch diya. Jaise gaye the waise wapas aa gaye (The meeting was so good that there was no exchange. It remained inconclusive)”.
Narendra Tomar also met BKU leader from western UP Rakesh Tikait after the Vigyan Bhawan meeting.
Another round of talks will be held on Thursday. Farmers, meanwhile, have threatened to intensify protests.
Thousands of farmers are expected to join protestors at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders of Delhi. Farmers from Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh could also swell the ranks of protestors. Farmers from Maharashtra were also spotted at Vigyan Bhawan, expressing solidarity with the Punjab-Haryana brethren. Police have been asked to show restraint while dealing with the protestors.