Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar with Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and Minister of State Som Prakash addresses a press conference after the 11th round of talks with farmers representatives on new farm laws, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar with Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and Minister of State Som Prakash addresses a press conference after the 11th round of talks with farmers representatives on new farm laws, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
Kamal Singh / PTI

New Delhi: The endless charade of talks with the farmers may be drawing to a close with the central government signalling that it was ready to walk away from the negotiation table.

Clearly at its wit’s end with the eleventh round of talks also running aground, the government hardened its stand insisting that its proposal to put the farm laws on hold for 18 months “was its best and last offer.” In the same breath, it asked the protesting farmers to reconsider the proposal, asserting that there was no lacunae in the law.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was categorical that the next round of talks will happen only when farmers were inclined to discuss the government’s proposal. “We thought of accommodating your concerns, not because there was anything wrong with the proposal. We gave you the best proposal. Unfortunately you rejected that,” he said at the meeting, reports News 18.

The TV channel cited its sources as saying that Friday's meeting lasted only 18 minutes and for the rest of the time, farm leaders were in a separate room.

Tomar was quoted as saying by news agency ANI that he was "sad" because farmer leaders did not seem to have "farmers' welfare at the heart of (their) talks". The ball was therefore in their court now. The agriculture minister also reportedly said that some external elements are trying to fan the ongoing agitation.

"Today's meeting lasted only 15-20 minutes... no discussion was held. The government said we have done the maximum we can do... if you (the farmers) want to take this forward, tell us by noon tomorrow and we will arrange a new meeting," Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha told NDTV.

The farmers, however, are adamant that all the three laws need to be scrapped and the Centre needs to provide legal guarantees for MSP (minimum support price). "We told the government we will not agree to anything other than repeal of the laws," Darshan Pal, a farmer leader with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, told news agency PTI after the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Kisan Ekta Morcha, which comes out with a new hashtag daily for its Twitter messages, proclaimed that #StopChinaNotFarmers" is Friday’s hashtag. ‘‘Let us use it, share it & viral it, so that farmers' voices reach the government and actions are taken.’’

In one of the tweets, it said: "Government should focus on real enemies & stop tainting our nationalist farmers."

A farmer union leader said the majority of those protesting on the borders were Sikhs; it was, therefore, shocking that the community which has a large presence in the armed forces, are being dubbed anti-national just because they are engaged in a national movement to save agriculture from the corporate sector. Anyone against the government policies cannot be painted as anti-national, he added.

The Morcha underlined in another tweet that "if you want to define nationalism, then you can define it in two simple words -- 'Kisan Morcha' – within which disparate groups are struggling together."

"Feel insulted"

After the meeting concluded, which lasted just 18 minutes on Friday, farmers' leaders said they felt "insulted" at the manner in which the Union ministers treated them.

Apparently, they were asked to wait in another room after the brief discussion.

"The minister made us wait for three-and-a-half-hours. This is an insult to farmers. When he came, he asked us to consider the government's proposal and said that he is ending the process of meetings," SS Pandher of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee told news agency ANI.

Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, meanwhile, said the proposed tractor march on Republic Day "will take place" as planned.

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