Something is wrong with the approach of the Narendra Modi government to tackle the on-going farmers’ agitation. The farmer unions on Wednesday rejected the proposal sent by the Centre to end the impasse over farm laws. The farmers protesting near national capital Delhi said that they will block the Delhi-Jaipur national highway by December 12 and hold protest demonstrations in many parts of the country on December 14.
Seeking to break the deadlock over protests against new farm laws, the government told representatives of agitating farmers that they are ready to address all their concerns, including the core issue of minimum support price (MSP) with an open mind, sources said.
However, nothing was materialised so far. Now the farm-organisations and agitators also urged farmers from other states to reach Delhi. If such situation arises, it would be very difficult for the government to cope up with the situation.
The central government has held five rounds of talks with the farmer leaders, but no breakthrough has been achieved. The scale of the November 26 protest march by 20-odd farmers’ groups of Punjab to New Delhi has perhaps taken both central agencies as well as the leadership of the BJP by surprise.
Union home minister Amit Shah had called the farmer leaders on Tuesday evening for informal negotiations, and informed them that a list of proposal will be shared with them. That list, with seven proposed amendments, was handed over to the leaders of 13 farm unions on Wednesday. The leaders held discussions and rejected the proposal on Wednesday. There is nothing new in government proposal; the protest agitation will continue against three agri-marketing laws, asserted the farm organisations.
In the proposal, the government had agreed to give a written assurance on continuing the Minimum Support Price (MSP), one of the main concerns raised by the protesters. It had also tried to allay their fears over mandis (marketplace) and taking over of farmlands by big corporates. But the farmers are firm with their demand that the farm laws should be repealed
It seems that the union home minister Amit Shah and the union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the principal negotiators, are not able to convince the agitators. Moreover, there is a perception that external forces are working to instigate the farm organisations to target Modi government on the issue. Interestingly, a demoralised Congress again rejuvenated with the agitation when a group of Opposition leaders, including Congress youth icon Rahul Gandhi met the President Ramnath Kovind on Wednesday.
The delegation of opposition parties including Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar and Left leaders insisted for repealing of the three farm laws against which thousands of farmers have been protesting on various borders of the national capital. The five-member delegation of opposition leaders included CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI general secretary D Raja and DMK leader TKS Elangovan, besides Gandhi and Pawar.
The protest against the farm laws has been going on since November 26. On Tuesday, the farmers unions had enforced a Bharat Bandh from 11 am to 3 pm. The bandh got very good response from across the country.
The new Agriculture Bills have, among other things, paved the way for farmers to sell their crops anywhere in the country—both within and outside APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) markets—and allows them to go for direct contracts with traders and food processors. However, Punjab’s farmers, the biggest beneficiary of the Centre’s wheat and paddy procurement, fear that these laws will harm their interests. They fear that central agencies, such as the Food Corporation of India (FCI), might gradually scale down food procurement targets, and even PDS (Public Distribution System) allotments may eventually move to the direct benefit transfer system.
Punjab and Haryana have invested large sums of money in setting up a robust mandi infrastructure through APMCs, but several other states are lagging behind. Due to the efforts of Punjab and Haryana, almost all farmers enjoy the benefit of realising MSP for their wheat and paddy. In several other states, even though the APMC mandi infrastructure exists, most trading takes place outside mandis. In these states, the farmers have given up any hope of realising a fair price for their produce. That is why they are not protesting actively.
Punjab and Haryana are too precious for Indian agriculture and food security. The Modi government knows this and, therefore, it has shown wisdom in initiating negotiations and offering to make suitable amendments in legislation.
In view of the situation and to break ice, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi should himself come forward and hold key talks with farm leaders and break the on-going impasse.