The seventh round of talks between protesting farmers and the Central Government seemed to reach a dead end with both sides refusing to back down on their core demands.
While the farmers blamed the government's "ego problem", Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that efforts need to be made from both sides to reach a compromise (taali dono haathon se bajti hai), indicating the government too blames the farmers' rigid stance for the failed talks.
The next round of discussions are scheduled to be held on 8 January.
Government's ego or farmers' intransigence?
After tiptoeing around other related softer issues, the discussions had finally reached to the point where both sides were forced to address the elephant in the room: the farmers' central demand of withdrawing the three laws unconditionally. Various media reports indicate that the discussion hit such a roadblock that both parties could not even transcend to discussing the farmers' second key demand of a legal guarantee of a Minimum Support Price on farm produces.
The farmer groups stuck to their demand for the repeal of three farm laws, while the government listed out various benefits of the new Acts for the growth of the country's agriculture sector.
Tomar, saying he remains hopeful of a solution in the next meeting, asserted that no outcome could be reached in today's meeting as farmer leaders remained adamant on one issue of repeal of the laws, but that the government wanted a clause-wise discussion on the legislations to take forward the talks.
Farmer leaders, however, alleged that it was the government's "ego problem" that was coming in the way of resolving the issues. NDTV quoted a farmer leader as saying that the government refused to even entertain the possibility of repealing the laws. Tomar "clearly said that the laws will not be repealed, he even told us to approach the Supreme Court for repeal of the laws," the report quoted Sarwan Singh Pandher of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee as saying.
Lunch break turns mood tester
The lunch break in these long and arduous negotiations have become a mood indicator over the days with the two sides mostly refusing to break bread together. Today too, the two sides took a long break after just about one hour of discussions.
During the break, representatives of protesting farmers had their own food, arranged from langar (community kitchen), as they have been doing for the last few times.
However, unlike the last round of talks on 30 December, the ministers did not join the union leaders and were seen having their own discussion separately during the break, which lasted for almost two hours.
The two sides got together again to resume their discussions at around 5.15 pm, but no headway could be made as the talks remained focussed on the farmers' demand for the repeal of the Acts.
Farmer leaders said the government said it needs to consult internally and thereafter it would come back to the unions.
The union leaders will also have their own meeting on Tuesday to decide their next course of action.
In Monday's talks, another key demand of farmers for a legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system barely came up for discussion.
The heart of the matter
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various Delhi borders for over a month against the three laws. They have stayed put despite heavy rains and waterlogging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.
Kavitha Kurungati of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, said, "The stand-off continued as the government is talking about benefits of the laws and we are asking for the repeal of those laws."
"The government said they will consult further and get back to us," she said.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) President Balbir Singh Rajewal said farmers will not agree to anything less than the repeal of three farms laws.
"We will discuss only the MSP issue and the repeal of laws. It is the ego problem of the government that is coming in way of resolving issues," he said.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Tomar said the farmer leaders should flag specific issues in the three laws on which they have problems. He maintained that the talks took place in a cordial atmosphere.
Asked whether the deadlock was due to a trust deficit between the government and the farmers, Tomar said the unions would not have agreed to continue the talks if they did not have the trust.
On whether the next meeting would also result in deciding another date, Tomar said everyone was free to think the way one wants, but the simple fact that talks are continuing indicates that there is a willingness to find a solution and he remains hopeful of that.
To a question about parallel talks with other farmer groups that are supporting the laws, the minister said the government is committed to the interests of all farmers of the country.
Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers' income.
During the meeting, the government listed various benefits from the three laws, enacted a few months ago, but farmers kept insisting that the legislation must be withdrawn to address their apprehensions that the new Acts would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out repealing the laws. Besides Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, are also part of the ministerial group holding talks with the representatives of 41 farmer unions.
The meeting at Vigyan Bhawan in the heart of the National Capital began with tributes to the farmers who have lost their lives during the ongoing protest.
A government statement said the ministers also expressed grief over the death of the farmers.
They also extended new year greetings to the union leaders at the start of the meeting.
Punjab students write to CJI, seek probe into 'police atrocities'
Over 35 students from the Panjab University have written to the Chief Justice of India seeking a Supreme Court monitored probe into the police action against protesting farmers in the state of Haryana.
The students wrote an open letter to the CJI and urged that Haryana and Delhi police should withdraw all the cases against farmers which were registered under alleged political vendetta.
The police action against the protesting agrarians was condemned by most quarters as the farmers, including women and elderly, have been braving harsh cold, heavy rainfall and other weather-related difficulties in keeping their movement afloat. The protests have also been largely peaceful barring some instances of vandalism.
The Reliance Industries Ltd group also faced the brunt of these protests with reports indicating that some Jio towers were attacked by some protesters.
The company said it is not in the business of corporate or contract farming and blamed "vested interests" behind vandalisation of the firm's telecom towers in Punjab.
The company also filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking the help of authorities to stop attacks on its telecom towers by farmers protesting against the three new farm laws on the belief that they favour big corporates. First in a statement and later in a petition before the high court, the company said it has "nothing whatsoever to do with the three farm laws currently debated in the country, and in no way benefits from them".
None of the group companies has done any corporate or contract farming in the past and has "absolutely no plans to enter this business", the firm said, adding it has not purchased any agricultural land, directly or indirectly, in Punjab and Haryana or anywhere else in the country.
While its retail units selling daily essentials to electronic products, "it does not purchase any food grains directly from farmers," the statement said.
"It has never entered into long-term procurement contracts to gain an unfair advantage over farmers or sought that its suppliers buy from farmers at less than remunerative prices, nor will it ever do so," it added.
The company blamed "vested interests" and "business rivals" behind vandalisation of nearly a fifth of its 9,000 telecom towers in Punjab.
On 30 December, the sixth round of talks was held between the government and the farmer unions, where some common ground was reached on two demands: decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.
However, no breakthrough could be reached on the two main demands of the protesting farmers: a repeal of the three recent farm laws and a legal guarantee to the MSP procurement system.
On Sunday, Tomar met defence minister Rajnath Singh and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest, sources said.
Tomar discussed with Singh all possible options to find a "middle path" to resolve the crisis, they added.
While several Opposition parties and people from other walks of life have come out in support of the farmers, some farmer groups have also met the agriculture minister over the last few weeks to extend their support to the three laws.
Last month, the government had sent a draft proposal to the protesting farmer unions, suggesting seven-eight amendments to the new laws and a written assurance on the MSP procurement system. The government has ruled out a repeal of the three agri laws.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), in the meantime, issued a press statement condemning the police action against protesting farmers in Punjab and Haryana and a ban on protests and dharnas imposed by the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh government.
It also said that an affidavit filed by Reliance Industries in the Punjab and Haryana High Court was "a ploy to save its business".
With inputs from PTI
Disclaimer: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd which publishes Firstpost