New Delhi: After five rounds of inconclusive discussions with the protesting farmers, the Modi government is now making serious efforts to bring them to the talks table once again.
Sources in the government said the Centre is willing to make more amendments in the farm laws to resolve the farmers’ concerns if they come for negotiations.
The government will also propose the next date of holding talks with farmers in a day or two, sources said, adding that this was communicated to Punjab BJP leaders, who met Union Home Minister Amit Shah Sunday.
In the last two-three days, the government has held several rounds of meetings with Punjab BJP leaders, several farmer union leaders from Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand and with interlocutors, who are talking to 32 farmer unions who have been protesting in Singhu border for over two weeks now.
“We have apprised Amit Shah ji of the situation in Punjab during our meetings. We have requested him to break the deadlock as soon as possible. We have told him that the situation is turning complex in Punjab as many rogue elements are trying to use this protest to further their cause,” said Jeevan Gupta, general secretary, Punjab BJP, who was part of the state BJP delegation, who met Shah.
“We mentioned Khalistan (supporters) protests in other parts of the world. We have also requested to use more local intelligence units at the protest site and in the border areas of Punjab,”
A BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint that after they explained to Shah about Punjab’s ground situation, the Union home minister replied that the government is doing everything to resolve the farmers’ concerns.
“We are aware of the unfolding situation in Punjab and we are ready to offer more concessions on amendments, besides what we have (already) proposed to them in writing, if they sit for talks in the coming days. We have not closed the door for negotiations,” the leader quoted Shah as saying in the meeting.
Farmers ‘changing goalposts’
BJP sources said the main reason that is hindering the government move to break the deadlock is that the leaders of farmer unions are not being consistent with their demands, which the government has learnt after talking to various groups in the last few days.
Punjab’s senior BJP leaders told ThePrint that soon after the farmers started their agitations “our senior leaders, including state party president Ashwini Sharma, met the main factions of Rajewal and Lakhowal (of Bharatiya Kisan Union) to understand their demands”.
“They said that they want MSP provision in writing, which we then conveyed to the Union agriculture minister in November, before starting the talks with farmers. Government agreed on giving written assurance of MSP. They (farmers) were happy in the 3 December meeting as the government relented on many issues. But in the next meeting of 5 December, they refused the government’s offer, and stuck to their demand of repealing all three laws,” said Gupta.
Som Prakash, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry who is part of the farmer talks along with Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, told ThePrint the “farmers are shifting goalposts inside and outside the meetings, which is the main hindrance to ending the deadlock”.
“Whether they are changing goalposts under someone’s influence, we don’t know. But it appears there is some pressure on them not to resolve the crisis easily,” Prakash said.
“At the 3 December meeting, we told them that the Centre is ready to make amendments (to the laws) to address their concerns, ranging from MSP to APMC tax, dispute resolution, registration of private purchasers and sellers, electricity bill, and stubble burning. They were happy after the meeting, but in the next meeting, their attitude changed and they hardened their stance,” the minister added.
A source in the BJP told ThePrint: “The main issue is that they are not consistent with their demands and the promises they make while talking to the government. Some of the leaders are ready to discuss the offers from the government side. But one moment, they said ‘we will convince other leaders to come forward’, but the next moment, they say ‘we are sticking to our demand to repeal the laws’.”
‘Sense of compulsion’ for farmers
Government and BJP leaders involved in the talks said the Rajewal faction is sympathetic to the government’s position and ready to discuss more on the MSP regime, but the farmer group led by Darshan Pal and some “Left-leaning farmer leaders” want to prolong the agitation until the government doesn’t roll back the laws.
The government is also using backchannel talks with Shiv Kumar Sharma, popularly known as Kakkaji, the chief of Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, which is one of the main farmer bodies leading the agitations, sources said.
A second senior BJP leader involved in the talks said that many of the leaders in the 32 farmer unions are sympathetic to the government proposal of amending the laws and are also willing to come for talks to end the deadlock, but Left-linked leaders have been preventing from budging.
“Some leaders even said ‘what will we show to those people who assembled at our call to protest the farm laws if we don’t have the laws repealed?’. This gives a sense of their compulsion (to continue with the protests) and outsider dictating the terms of engagement. But we are offering more clear provisions on MSP, which may suit the farmers,” said the leader.
BJP spokesperson Gopal Agrawal, however, told ThePrint that to end the deadlock, “government can change wordings on MSP provision, but private procurement below MSP can’t be part of the law”. “It will be suicidal for the economy and this is the bottom line of the government’s position,” he added.
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