Farmers protesting the agriculture laws fired a warning shot late Tuesday night ahead of a sixth round of talks with the centre tomorrow, saying that they would only discuss certain issues, including modalities of repealing all three laws and providing legal guarantees for MSP.
The nationwide protest by tens of thousands of irate farmers has rumbled on for over a month now, with their core demand – the scrapping of the laws and legal support for MSP – unchanged.
The centre has been equally obstinate – the laws will not be rolled back (but certain sections can be amended) and it will offer only a written (not legally binding) guarantee for MSP.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a grouping of 40 farmer unions, wrote to the centre Tuesday to accept a fresh invitation to the negotiating table, and also reminding it of its ‘non-negotiable’ demands.
Last week the Morcha had turned down the same invitation. “The government is not serious about our demands… should put repeal of the laws on the agenda for fresh dialogue,” Shiv Kumar Kakka, a senior farmer leader, was quoted by news agency PTI.
And in signs that their patience was running out, farmer leaders dismissed a letter from the Agriculture Ministry asking for a list of talking points and said: “Don’t they know our demands?”
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal (who are among those representing the centre in these discussions) met Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday. Sources said they discussed the centre’s strategy ahead of the talks.
Mr Tomar on Monday said he was confident of an early solution to the impasse.
The preceding round of talks was held on December 5 and ended in a stalemate, following which Amit Shah held an informal meeting that also failed to provide a breakthrough. Later the centre proposed eight amendments and written assurances for MSP, both of which were turned down.
The farmers have since held two hunger strikes and a “Bharat bandh” to drive home their point. They have, however, deferred to Thursday a proposed tractor rally.
Also on Tuesday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar accused the centre of rushing the farm laws through without consulting stakeholders. The agriculture sector cannot be run from Delhi, he said.
Mr Pawar told PTI that the centre ought to take the farmers’ protest seriously and that it was “unfair” of the Narendra Modi government to blame the opposition; the centre has claimed the protests have been engineered by opposition parties and separatist elements.
Prime Minister Modi has hailed the farm laws as reformatory and said they allow farmers to skip middlemen, and sell their produce at markets and prices of their choice.
At least 30 deaths have been reported since the protests began last month; several of these, the farmers say, are from the winter chill as they are camped outdoors with minimal heating at night.
With input from PTI