The government's talks on Tuesday with the agitating farmers did not cut any ice as the latter rejected outright a suggestion by Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar to set up a tripartite committee to discuss the new farm laws.
The farmers insisted that the government first repeal all the three farm laws and promulgate an Ordinance giving a legal guarantee that it will continue with the Minimum Support Price.
The MSP gives a farmer an assurance that he would get the minimum price from the government for his produce even if prices crash in the market.
Tomar, who was assisted by Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and his Minister of State Som Prakash, suggested that the committee could have four or five representatives of the farmers and an equal number of government nominees and agriculture experts.
Som Prakash was roped in since he is from Hoshiarpur and can easily converse in Punjabi with the leaders of the farmers who are sitting on Delhi’s borders for the past six days.
His attempt to intervene, however, was rebuffed with the protesting leaders pointing out that the government should have formed such a committee before rushing with the anti-farmer laws in Parliament.
The farmers fear that the Centre's so-called reforms would pave the way for dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
When Tomar pointed out that the government was right now buying paddy (rice) only at the MSP, a farm leader pointed out that the government was doing so today but it would wash its hands off once the corporates take over.
Some 30 representatives of farmers, who engaged in the talks, refused to accept the government assurance, which they felt was meaningless in view of the manner in which the government had pushed the law through an Ordinance.
The talks began after Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda held two meetings with the Agriculture Minister on Monday night and again on Tuesday morning to decide how far the government could bend to accommodate the farmers.
The agitating leaders, however, reiterated that they would not return to the negotiation table; also, they would stage an indefinite sit-in on the entry points of Delhi until the three laws are repealed.
Agriculture Minister Tomar had last week scheduled the talks on December 3 and then agreed to hold them early if the farmers withdrew the blockade and shifted to the Nirankari Grounds in Burari. He even offered to meet their leaders at Burari, but the farmers rejected the suggestion.
Punjab Kisan Union leader Amareek Singh said all of them asserted in one voice that the government should first repeal all the three laws with immediate effect and give the legal guarantee on the MSP.
He said the farmers have come prepared with supplies to stay put for six months, if required.
The government is worried that it has already lost its alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, on the issue of farm bills and it can ill-afford to have other allies breathing down its neck.
The latest to exert pressure is Ajay Chautala of Haryana's Jan Nayak Janata Party (JJP), whose son Dushyant Chautala is the deputy chief minister in the coalition government in the state. The deputy CM had earlier protested to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar against the deploying of police to prevent the farmers from reaching Delhi. The JJP suggested that the government should give a written commitment that it will continue with the MSP.
Another NDA ally, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), has also urged the government to ensure the farmers are not victimised. Its convener Hanuman Beniwal, MP from Nagaur in Rajasthan, even dashed off a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah, threatening to end the alliance unless the government placates the farmers.