Union minister of state for commerce Som Parkash, who is the sole representative of Punjab in the central cabinet, on Saturday told the Hindustan Times in an interview that “radical elements and pressure” were why the farmer union leaders backtracked after the government put its offer to stay the agri reforms amid protests.
Parkash was part of three-member ministerial team that held 11 rounds of negotiations with farmers in the past two months. The Hoshiarpur MP said that at the last rounds of talks, the Centre had offered to suspend the laws for one-and-a-half years and constitute a committee with representatives of farmers to deliberate on the laws before their implementation.
According to him, that was the best offer the government could make, adding that the laws were enacted in the interest of farmers. “But the message that the farm unions conveyed was that these are against the farmers. Unfortunately, they succeeded in that and it became a movement,” he said.
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Parkash said the propaganda was that farmers’ land would be snatched by corporates, arguing that the laws had “nothing like that” but was all for “the farmers’ welfare by opening additional mandis and modernising cultivation techniques”.
He pointed out the government agreed to amend the provisions about unions had raised their concern against, and that all was put on the table after talks. “In the meetings, they agreed to certain proposals and promised to revert the next day. But when they went back, they came under pressure from people with radical views,” he told the Hindustan Times, adding that such people “scared” the union leaders and “forced them to backtrack and demand the repeal of laws”. He said the radical elements were now being identified.
Repeal of Laws
Parkash said nothing could be a better option that the government offering to suspend the laws for 18 months, adding that farm unions should not “be so obstinate” and find a way out of the things offered in last talks and come forward to convene with the government. “If they are sticking to this (demand for repeal), they may have a different agenda on their mind,” he said, adding that he could not say what the “different agenda” could be when the government was willing to amend and suspend.
Asked whether the repeal was entirely off the table, Parkash said that this was what was Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had conveyed in the last talks. He said demanding the repeal was rubbish, and that laws were there for the entire country and not just two or three states.
He said only Tomar could tell whether the Centre would invite the farm unions for further negotations, adding that the last offer was “the best the government could offer”.
He said the talks were deadlocked for now. “If the unions come forward with any proposal based on our last offer, the government can discuss that. Political parties which have been supporting these reforms want to derive political benefit out of this situation,” he said.
FIRs Post R-day Violence
He said storming of Red Fort by “unruly farmers” had been condemned by all, and that farm unions violated their pact with Delhi Police. He said there could be no compromise with the country’s interests and that of the state, adding that unions needed to understand their responsibility. “Agitation doesn’t mean gathering crowds by raising emotional slogans and falsehoods. Handling them is also their responsibility,” Parkash said.
Opposition by the Opposition
Being a representative of Punjab in the central cabinet, Parkash said he had been espousing the state’s interests in the Centre.
He said all the parties which were now opposing the laws had previously been votaries of the farm reforms in the past. “They were part of the Congress manifesto. Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister of the UPA government, had supported these reforms in Parliament. The Shiromani Akali Dal spoke in favour of the reforms for two or three months after our government brought an ordinance last year. Even Parkash Singh Badal publicly endorsed it. Where are the moral values of these political parties?,” he told HT.