The Centre has once again invited protesting farmer unions for the resumption of the stalled talks and asked them to choose a date of their convenience to end the impasse over the three new farm reform laws. The Centre in its letter said it is ready to take up whatever issues the unions want to discuss in addition to those dealt with in previous rounds.
The effort to resume talks comes even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to interact with farmers on Friday during a money transfer event under the PM-Kisan scheme. But the farmer unions alleged that the government's latest letter for talks is nothing but a propaganda against the peasants to create an impression they are not interested in dialogue, and asked it to put the scrapping of the new farm laws in the agenda to resume the parleys.
The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions protesting at three border points of Delhi - Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur - for the last 27 days, is likely to hold a meeting on Friday to discuss the Centre's letter and respond to it formally.
The Union Agriculture ministry while extending a fresh invite, however, made it clear that it would not be "logical" to include in the agenda any new demand related to minimum support price (MSP), saying it was out of the purview of the new farm laws. However, the government said it would still like to discuss them along with all other issues. The Centre told the unions that it is ready to discuss "all issues raised by you", a stance that accommodates the additional conditions the farm unions set out in their letter to the government.
However, the unions said the MSP cannot be separated from the demand of repealing the contentious laws, asserting the issue of a legal guarantee for it is a key part of their agitation. Farmers’ organisations are demanding a legal guarantee that all agricultural commodities will be purchased only at MSP or above, that too at an MSP fixed with C2+50% formula as per the National Farmers’ Commission recommendation.
“When the Government sends the draft of such a legislation (for legally guaranteed realisation of remunerative MSP for all agricultural commodities and for all farmers), we will give a detailed reply without any delay,” the unions said.
The ministry also reiterated it is ready to find a "logical solution" to the issues raised by protesting farmer unions.
With the push of a button on Friday, Prime Minister Modi will enable the transfer of more than Rs 18,000 crore to over nine crore beneficiary families. The amount will be the next instalment of financial benefits to farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN), According to the Prime Minister's Office(PMO), Modi will also interact with farmers from six states via video-conferencing during the event.
The Congress, meanwhile, stepped up its attack on the government and petitioned President Ram Nath Kovind and demanded a joint session of Parliament to repeal the laws, with party leader Rahul Gandhi alleging that democracy is only "imaginary" in India. Gandhi met the President and handed over a memorandum stated to have been signed by 2 crore farmers and demanded a repeal of the laws, saying they will not benefit the farmers or labourers. The Centre has rejected the demand for repeal of the laws, saying the reforms are beneficial to farmers.
Congress leaders earlier staged a sit-in protest outside the party headquarters in the capital after they were prevented from marching towards Rashtrapati Bhawan. The leaders including Priyanka Gandhi were detained by the police for violating prohibitory orders. The BJP on its part challenged Rahul Gandhi for an open debate on what the Congress did for farmers' welfare when in power and what the Modi government has done for them, as it rejected his allegations against the Centre as "baseless and illogical".
Union minister Prakash Javadekar accused the Congress of ignoring farmers' interests and keeping them poor to ensure cheap grain prices, and asserted that the Modi government empowered them by implementing the Swaminathan commission report to give them remunerative price through MSP. In a three-page letter written to 40 farmer leaders, Agriculture Ministry Joint Secretary Vivek Aggarwal said, "I again request you that the government has been discussing all issues with an open heart and good intention to end the protest, and will continue to do so. Kindly suggest a date and time (for the next round of talks." The previous five rounds of talks between the government and the unions have failed to break the deadlock Aggarwal asked the union leaders to provide details of other issues they want to discuss. The talks will be held at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi at a ministerial level, he said.
On MSP, he said the farm laws have no connection with the price regime nor would have any impact on the procurement of farm produce at the fixed rates. This has been told to the unions in every discussion and it has also been made clear that the government is ready to give written assurance on MSP, he added.
"Any new demand related to MSP, which is out of the ambit of farm laws, is not logical to include in the talks. As informed earlier, the government is ready to discuss all the issues raised by farmer unions," he noted. Aggarwal said it is important to keep all doors open for discussion for the government. It is the responsibility of the government to listen to farmer organisations and farmers and the government cannot deny this.
The government with an open heart has held several rounds of discussion with farmer unions under the Samyukt Kisan Morcha and urged them to choose a date as per their convenience for the next round of talks, he added. Aggarwal's letter has come in response to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha's December 23 letter, through which it had informed the government that the farmer unions are ready for talks but asked it to send a "concrete proposal in writing instead of repeating rejected proposals around meaningless amendments." "The government is not serious about our demands and they are writing letters every day. The new letter is nothing but a propaganda being created by the government against us to give an impression that we are not interested in holding talks.
"The government should bring the repeal of the three farm laws in the agenda for a fresh round of dialogue," senior morcha leader Shiv Kumar Kakka told PTI. He said a legal guarantee of the MSP is an important part of the farmers' demands, which cannot be neglected by the government.
In another development, two farmer organisations from Uttar Pradesh met Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and urged him not to repeal the new farms laws. Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (KMS) and Kisan Sena (KS) made a representation, which also included a demand for strengthening the dispute resolution system in case of any trouble in contract farming.
So far, at least 12 farmers group have extended their support for the laws, the previous ones being from Uttarakhand, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, among other places. In a major outreach to farmers, the BJP has made plans to ensure participation of over one crore of them at thousands of venues across the nation on Friday when Prime Minister Modi effects the transfer of Rs 18,000 crore to nine crore farmers and interacts with a section of them.
BJP leaders, from Union ministers to its MPs, MLAs, all elected representatives besides organisational members, will fan out across the country to attend the programme and speak to farmers as well. The event coincides with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's birth anniversary which the BJP observes every year as "good governance day" since it came to power at the Centre in 2014.
BJP ally and Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, meanwhile, said the new central farm laws need many amendments and urged protesting farmers to give "concrete suggestions". At a press conference in Chandigarh, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) leader reiterated he will tender his resignation the day he feels he is unable to ensure MSP for the farmers' produce in Haryana.