The Central government on Friday seemed to have hardened its stance on farmers protests and their demands, signalling that it was ready to walk away from the talks, after the 11th round of talks with the protestors remained inconclusive, according to a News18 report.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the unions that the government was ready for another meeting only if farmers want to discuss the proposal on suspending laws. He reiterated that there were no problems with the laws, and yet the government had offered to suspend them as respect for farmers.
The farmers, meanwhile, have threatened to intensify their protests till the laws are fully repealed and have also said the tractor rally on Republic Day will take place as decided.
Reports said that government indicated that its proposal to stay the implementation of the laws for 18 months ‘was its best and last offer’ and asked the protesting farmers to reconsider the proposal, even as it reiterated that there was no deficiency in the law.
Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced the next round of talks will happen only when farmers are ready to talk on the government’s proposal.
We gave a proposal to farmers and if they have a better proposal then they can come to us: Government
— ANI (@ANI) January 22, 2021
“We thought of accommodating your concerns, not because there was anything wrong with proposal. We gave you the best proposal. Unfortunately you rejected that,” he said at the meeting.
External forces at play who don’t want farmers to benefit, says govt
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Tomar said the government has always maintained a sensitive approach towards farmers and their interest, but some forces were definitely at works to keep the agitation on and those forces certainly do not want farmers to benefit.
'No resolution is possible when the sanctity of an agitation is lost,' he said while adding that no decision can be reached in the interest of the farmers if vested interests get an upper hand.
On whether he saw any division among the union leaders on the government proposal, Tomar did not give a direct reply but said, 'We thanked all farmer leaders, including those who support our proposal and those who are against it.' There have been reports that some unions were in support of the government's proposal, but they decided to go with the majority view to reject the offer.
Tomar said the government will wait if there are some who think about the interest of the farmers and consider our proposal, the talks can be taken forward.
Asserting that the agitation involved people mainly from Punjab and some from a few other states, Tomar said the government always tried to respect farmer unions and wanted the discussion to continue in the right direction.
He said 11 rounds of talks have been held so far, including one by the government officials and the rest by three ministers.
'While farmer leaders were adamant on their demand for a repeal of the laws, the government tried to identify their concerns and offered one after other many proposals, including some amendments to the laws,' he said.
'While the dignity was maintained during the talks, a sense to take a decision in the interest of farmers was lacking on the part of the unions. Therefore, the talks could not reach a decision. I also regret it,' he said.
Asked what options the government has if the unions do not reconsider the offer and intensify their protest, Tomar said, 'We have given them all possible options. If they have a better option, except for the repeal, they can tell us,' he said.
Asserting that there cannot be a better proposal than the one made by the government, Tomar said, 'We told the unions that they should re-consider it as this proposal is in the interest of farmers and of the country. Therefore we said we conclude the talks today. If you arrive at any decision, tell us tomorrow. We can meet at any place to announce that decision.'
The minister said the farm reform laws were passed in Parliament to bring a transformation in the agriculture sector, make farming profitable, end corruption and eliminate middlemen, help farmers grow high-value crops, and use new technologies to earn good profit.
On reports about the attack on farmers and their proposed tractor rally, the minister said, 'I have been thanking farmers unions through media as well as in the meetings for holding a peaceful protest. I have expressed hope that the protest in the future should not be violent and there should not be any untoward incidents and they maintain discipline. This would be my expectation.'
Asked if the government is hopeful that farmer unions will come again for talks, Tomar said, 'I believe one should always be hopeful. Asha se hi aasman tika hai (Hope holds the world together).' On whether he sees the deadlock ending anytime, Tomar said: 'What will happen tomorrow, I cannot speculate. I am not an astrologer. I am hopeful that farmer unions will consider our offer positively.'
The adamant farmer unions told the government they want a complete repeal of three contentious farm laws even as the Centre asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the Acts on hold for 12-18 months, as the two sides met for their 11th round of talks to resolve the nearly-two-month long deadlock.
In the last round of meetings held on Wednesday, the government had offered to put on hold the three laws and set up a joint committee to find solutions. However, after internal consultations on Thursday, the farmer unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands -- the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
'We told the government that we will not agree to anything other than the repeal of the laws. But the minister asked us to discuss separately again and rethink on the matter and convey the decision,' farmer leader Darshan Pal told PTI during a break after the first session.
BKU leader Rakesh Tikait said: 'We conveyed our position clearly to the government that we want a repeal of the laws and not a suspension. The minister (Narendra Singh Tomar) asked us to reconsider our decision.' Tikait said the farmer leaders are discussing internally on this issue.
'After the lunch break, we will convey our decision,' he added. Inputs: News18, PTI, ANI