Farmers refuse to budge; next round of talks on Dec 5
Cartoon: Mika Azizi

NEW DELHI: The day-long talks between the farmers and the Centre ended on Thursday with Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s appeal to end the agitation and an assurance that the government is open to discussing all issues and allaying the doubts of the protestors. He insisted that the new laws were brought only to serve their interests.

However, there was no breakthrough during the talks with farmers sticking to their demand for a special law committing the minimum support price for crops.

In the evening the buzz was that the government may issue a statement later in the night and lay its cards on the table, which could lead to a ‘compromise.’ This was expected to happen after Shah consults Prime Minister Modi and briefs him on the deadlock. In any case, the talks have not collapsed, though the deadlock persists; the farmers will be again meeting the government interlocutors on December 5 (Saturday).

Meanwhile, Delhi remained under siege with farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh camping at its periphery for the seventh day on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, neither side seemed inclined to budge even as the farmers threatened a day's nationwide protest on Saturday and reiterated their demand for a special session of Parliament to roll back the three farm laws it had enacted.

The farmers were blunt that their siege will end only after the laws are removed from the statute books.

Home Minister Amit Shah was in constant touch with the three ministers who were negotiating with the farmers. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who is heading the ministerial group comprising Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and his Minister of State Som Prakash, an MP from Punjab, kept trying to persuade the leaders to discuss the three farm laws clause by clause.

The leaders, however, refused to go into the nitty-gritty of the laws, insisting that they should be first junked; they are then only ready to sit with the government and experts to reformulate the laws. The government had offered a tripartite committee in Tuesday's talks to resolve the issues.

Declining the ministers' offer to have lunch with them, the leaders preferred to have ‘langar’ which they had brought from a gurudwara. As a leader said: "We are not accepting food or tea offered by the government. We have brought our own food. Even at the border, our colleagues are cooking their own food; incidentally, we have come stocks to last us for any number of days."

In a related development, former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (92) on Thursday sent a strong message to the Centre by returning his Padma Vibhushan award as a sign of protest. His son and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal said his party had to break the alliance with the ruling BJP only because the farm bills were brought in Parliament without consulting the alliance partners and without taking the farmers into confidence.

He further slammed the government for trying to rope in present Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh instead of calling Parkash Singh Badal, whose sane advice could have placated the farmers and helped the government find a solution.

Amarinder had a meeting with home minister Amit Shah on Thursday on an invite from the latter and appealed to the Centre to end the logjam as it is a matter of both national security and the economy coming to a standstill in Punjab.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi continued to back the farmer leaders, tweeting on Thursday that nothing will be acceptable except for complete abolition of the black farm laws.

Former Indian hockey team captain and twice an Olympian, Pargat Singh, also announced his decision to return the 1998 Padma Shri award in support of the agitating farmers. He is currently a Congress MLA from Jalandhar Cant.

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Free Press Journal