The Centre and farmer groups are set to resume talks today (Monday, 4 January) to break the deadlock over the the contentious agriculture laws being protested by thousands of farmers at Delhi's borders.
A day ahead of the resumption of talks, the farmers had to face heavy and continuous rainfall on Sunday morning.
Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh have been protesting the Centre's laws for over a month despite the cold weather and COVID-19 pandemic.
Two of their main demands is the withdrawal of the laws and a legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP). However, several rounds with the delegation of Union ministers, led by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, have failed to yield a consensus.
The two sides are scheduled to hold the seventh round of talks at 2 pm on Monday.
On Sunday, Tomar met Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest, PTI quoted sources as saying. Tomar discussed with Singh "all possible options" to find a "middle path" to resolve the crisis.
Rajnath, who served as agriculture minister in the erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, has emerged as a key troubleshooter and is working mostly behind the scenes on this issue, the report added.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters on Sunday, farmer leaders at the Singhu border said they will celebrate the festival of Lohri on 13 January by burning copies of the newly introduced agriculture laws.
Farmers brave cold weather, water-logged tents
Waterlogged tents, soaked firewood and blankets, and cold conditions " farmers camping at Delhi borders in protest against new farm laws had a difficult morning on Sunday due to overnight rains.
The continuous downpour led to waterlogging at agitation venues and waterproof tents did not help much, PTI quoted protesters as saying.
Farmer leader Abhimanyu Kohar, who is a member of the Sankyukt Kisan Morcha, said farmers have waterproof tents, but that they cannot protect from biting cold and waterlogging.
"The situation is very bad at protest sites due to rain which has caused waterlogging. There is so much cold after the rains, but the government is not able to see our misery," he said.
Gurwinder Singh, who is camping at the Singhu Border, said there is waterlogging at some places as civic facilities are not up to the mark but asserted that the weather will not dampen the spirit of farmers who have been protesting for over a month.
"Despite facing several problems, we will not move from here until our demands are met," he said.
According to an IMD official, heavy rainfall was reported in areas across Delhi and minimum temperatures have increased due to clouding and easterly winds.
"Safdarjung observatory recorded a minimum temperature of 9.9 degrees Celsius.., with 25 mm rain. Palam observatory recorded a minimum temperature of 11.4 degrees Celsius with 18 mm rain. Rain with hail storm is expected until 6 January," the official said.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) leader Sukhdev Singh at the Tikri border said arrangements made by farmers to brave the cold weather are not helping much because of rains and subsequent waterlogging.
Veerpal Singh, a protesting farmer, said their blankets, clothes and wood are soaked.
"Our clothes are soaked due to waterlogging caused by rains. Besides, we are facing difficulties to cook food as rain water has also soaked firewood. We do have an LPG cylinder but not everyone here has it," he said.
Dharmveer Yadav, who is camping at the Ghazipur border protest site, said farmers will not move an inch from their agitation venues.
"We are ready to face any problem, be it heavy rain or storm, but we will not leave this place in any condition until our demands are met," Yadav said.
Rainwater also entered camps at Burari ground and the protesters were seen draining the water out and rearranging their belongings to prevent from soaking in water.
Sukhwinder Singh, joint secretary of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee Punjab, said, "This is the time when we sow wheat. We work in our fields during night and early hours in Punjab where the temperature is even below the mercury is here. This would not hamper the courage of farmer."
Gurmel Singh from Patiala district of Punjab, said, "We have not been affected by the rains. We have covered our tractor trollies completely."
Avatar Singh from Ambala district of Haryana said, "We had made our arrangements considering the possibility of rains. The grain is completely safe and under the tent. But the rains have only created mud due to which people are facing difficulty in walking. We are cleaning the area and trying to clear waterlogging."
Will burn copies of new farm laws on Lohri, say farmer leaders
Accusing the Centre of being "stubborn" over the issue, farmer leaders also said that they will observe the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on 23 January as Azad Hind Kisan Diwas'.
"We will celebrate the Lohri festival on January 13 by burning the copies of farm laws, farmers' leader Manjeet Singh Rai added. Rai also urged people to hold protests in support of farmers across India from 6 to 20 January.
Lohri is mostly celebrated in north India, marking the beginning of the spring season. Bonfires are a special characteristic of the festival
Another farmers' leader Onkar Singh said, "Today is the 37th day of our protest. The government should leave its stubbornness. In these conditions, the farmers, including elders, have been sitting on protest, but the government is not concerned about it."
"As the temperature is decreasing, we have tried to arrange the waterproof tents. We are also trying to arrange the blankets and warm water.
Arrangements for 1,000 women have been made near the KFC with a tent and the mattresses, farmers' leader Harmeet Singh Kadian said.
Three more protesting farmers die at Delhi borders
Three more farmers, who were part of the protests at the Delhi borders against the Centre's new farm laws, have died, police said on Sunday.
One of the farmers died of cardiac arrest, another was suffering from fever while the cause of the death of the third farmer could only be ascertained after post-mortem, PTI reported.
The deceased were identified as Shamsher Singh (around 45 years of age), a resident of Lidhra village in Punjab''s Sangrur district, Jashandeep Singh (18), a resident of Chauke village in Punjab''s Bathinda district, and Jagbir Singh (60), a resident of Jind in Haryana, the police said.
Shamsher was part of the protests at the Singhu border, while Jagbir was participating in the agitation at the Tikri border. Shamsher had complained of chest pain on Sunday morning, a police official said, adding that the cause of his death could only be established after post-mortem.
Jagbir passed away at the Tikri border, an official of the Bahadurgarh police station said. He died of a heart attack, the police official said, adding that the body was handed over to his family after post-mortem.
Jashandeep died on Saturday evening, the police said, adding that he had gone to support the agitating farmers at the Tikri border. Jashandeep was suffering from fever and was taken to the PGIMS, Rohtak, where he breathed his last.
Every farmer-labourer is a 'satyagrahi', says Rahul Gandhi
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday compared the ongoing farmers' protests against the three new Central agriculture-related laws with the Champaran agitation during the British rule, and said every farmer-labourer part of the current movement is a 'satyagrahi' and they will take their rights back.
"The country is going to face a Champaran-like tragedy. British were 'company Bahadur' back then and now Modi-friends are 'company Bahadur'," Rahul alleged in a tweet in Hindi.
"But, every farmer-labourer of the movement is a 'satyagrahi' who will take back their rights," the former Congress chief said.
The Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was led by Mahatma Gandhi and is considered a historic event in India's independence movement.
It was a farmer's uprising that took place in Champaran district of Bihar during the British colonial period when the farmers protested having to grow indigo with barely any payment for it.
In another tweet, Rahul Gandhi alleged that the Modi government which is unable to give legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) to farmers is giving "fixed price to its industrialist friends to run foodgrain godowns".
Government Mandis are either being closed down or food grains are not being purchased, he alleged.
"Why the lack of attention to farmers and sympathy for suit-boot friends," Gandhi said in the tweet in Hindi.
The Congress has been seeking the repeal of the three new farm laws, alleging that they will ruin farming and the farmers. The Congress is also supporting the farmers' agitation against the legislations.
'Will intensify stir if talks fail'
In a statement issued on Friday, farmer groups, upping the ante, said that they will start shutting all malls and petrol pumps in Haryana if the government fails to resolve their main demands in the 4 January meeting.
Addressing a press conference at the Singhu border protest site on Friday, representatives of farmer unions said that only five percent of the issues raised by them have so far been discussed in meetings with the government.
They outlined multiple protest actions over a month if their main demands are not met, in an announcement a few days before Republic Day celebrations.
Farmer leader Yudhveer Singh said if the central government thinks the farmers' protest will go the Shaheen Bagh way, then it is mistaken.
"They (government) cannot make us leave this place like they did in Shaheen Bagh," he said.
Hundreds of protesters had camped at Shaheen Bagh for several months against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The site was cleared by the Delhi Police following the coronavirus-induced lockdown in March last year.
At the press conference, farmer leaders made it clear that they will have to take firm steps if the government does not take a decision in their favour in the 4 January meeting.
Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said that the government has not moved an inch on the two main issues: repeal of three agri laws and legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP).
He claimed that the government has denied giving in-principle commitment to the issue of legal guarantee for MSP.
Spelling out their next course of action, Yadav said that while talks with the Union government will go on, farmer unions will intensify the protest simultaneously and take it to every corner of the country.
"If the January 4 meeting with the government fails to end the deadlock, we will announce dates for shutting all malls, petrol pumps in Haryana," another farmer leader, Vikas, told reporters.
At a meeting of Samkyukt Kisan Morcha " an umbrella body of around 40 farmer unions protesting at several Delhi border points " several decisions were taken.
According to the unions, if the results of the talks on 4 January are not satisfactory, a tractor march will be taken out from the protest site to the Kundli Manesar Palwal (KMP) Expressway on 6 January and a call will also be given to those farmers protesting at Shahjahanpur on the Haryana-Rajasthan border to move towards Delhi
Rallies, dharnas, sit-ins and press conferences will be ogranised across the country from 6 January to 20 January to counter the alleged government propaganda that the protest was Punjab-centric.
Farmers will celebrate Women's Day on 18 January and the modalities will be discussed later, farmer leaders said, adding that programmes will be held on to mark birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on 23 January.
After the sixth round of formal negotiations on 30 December, the government and farm unions reached some common ground to resolve protesting farmers' concerns over rise in power tariff and penalties for stubble burning, but the two sides remained deadlocked over the main contentious issues of the repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee for MSP.
After the talks between three union ministers and a 41-member representative group of thousands of farmers protesting on Delhi borders, Tomar said at least 50 percent resolution has been reached with mutual agreement on two out of four items on the agenda and discussions would continue on the remaining two on 4 January at 2 pm.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are protesting at various borders of the national capital for more than a month against these three new laws.
The government has presented these laws as major agriculture reforms aimed at helping farmers and increasing their income, but the protesting unions fear that the new legislations have left them at the mercy of big corporates by weakening the MSP and mandi systems.
With inputs from PTI