New Delhi: The Modi government is willing to engage in an unconditional discussion with the protesting farmers but isn’t ready to withdraw its three controversial farm laws as of now, ThePrint has learnt. However, the BJP has said the government will be ready to make changes to the laws if a need is felt following talks with the protesters.
Thus, the first priority now is to get the farmers to talk, sources in the government and the party said, adding that the farmers should also show some flexibility and “engage in a meaningful dialogue”.
The Modi government has already sent feelers to farmers organisations, indicating that they are willing to hold talks even before the scheduled 3 December meeting. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been monitoring the entire situation and has held two meetings with Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and other leaders in this regard.
While a meeting was held at party president J.P. Nadda’s residence Sunday night, following farmers’ rejection of the government’s offer to shift their protest to Burari, Tomar and Shah met again Monday morning to take stock of the situation.
Speaking to ThePrint, a source in the government said while there is a very bleak chance of the administration amending the law, it will likely constitute a committee to address farmers’ concerns when talks happen. “But everything depends on the talks. They need to first agree to that,” he added.
The BJP, the leading party in the ruling coalition, seems to be following a two-pronged strategy to deal with the protests, which have been continuing since the laws were passed in September.
On the one hand, the leaders are concerned about the farmers protesting through winter nights and want to convince them that the government cares about their welfare. On the other, they are making it a point to highlight their belief that the farmers are being misled by their political opponents.
The approach was apparent in PM Narendra Modi’s address at Varanasi Monday, where he lashed out at the opposition for allegedly confusing the farmers while reiterating his government’s commitment to their welfare.
Modi slams opposition
The three farm laws have been pitched by the Modi government as long-due reforms meant to empower farmers. However, they have landed in a row over concerns about the absence of a provision for MSP — the minimum support price set by the government for produce — in the laws.
There have also been concerns that the laws will open the doors to corporatisation of the farm sector, a charge denied by the government.
The protests against the laws started in Punjab this September but spilled over to the capital this month as the protesters started their ‘Dilli Chalo’ rally.
There have been some rounds of discussions between the government and farmer leaders over the past few weeks, but a resolution has been elusive. As the Dilli Chalo protest hit the headlines — with visuals of farmers being attacked with water cannons and teargas shells by security forces — Tomar invited farmer leaders for talks with the government on 3 December.
The protesters marching on Delhi wanted to hold a demonstration at Ramlila Maidan or the Jantar Mantar. But in the absence of permission to move to these locations — they have only been allowed to protest in Burari — the farmers remain gathered at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
As he made an address in Varanasi, Modi made an appeal to the farmers but also attacked political parties for creating confusion and outlined the work done by the government for the welfare of the farmers.
Modi slammed the opposition for “using tricks to oppose historic agriculture reforms laws”, adding that farmers are being misled”.
“Earlier, decisions of the government were opposed, now rumours have become the basis for protest and opposition. Propaganda is spread that although a decision is fine, it can lead to other consequences, about things that haven’t happened or will never happen,” he said.
“The same game is being played in the case of historical agricultural reforms. These are the same people who have consistently tricked the farmers for decades.”
Aiming to allay the fears of the farmers, Modi said decades of deceit make farmers apprehensive but now there is no deceit as work is being carried out with “intentions as pure as Gangajal”. If there is any apprehension against the new farm laws, the government is willing to respond, he said.
‘Open to discussions’
BJP national spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal told ThePrint that the “government is open to holding discussions and talks with the farmers groups”.
“We are even willing to sit and listen to their grievances if they have any as far as these three laws are concerned. If there is a need, we will make necessary changes within it. At the same time, it is important to note that some political parties and anti-social elements are trying to capture this protest for their own benefits,” he said.
“They are misleading the farmers. Reforms are necessary for the farmers and the economy and the government is going to take all steps to ensure that.”
Dushyant Gautam, BJP general secretary and in-charge of Punjab, echoed the concerns raised by Agarwal, adding that political parties like the Congress and the Akali Dal are “trying to gain political dividend out of these protests”.
While the Congress is in office in Punjab, the Akali Dal is a former BJP ally that broke ranks with the party earlier this year in protest against the laws.
“All the three bills are pro-farmers. If they have any grievances we are ready to talk. The home minister himself is addressing their concern which shows you the seriousness of our resolve,” he said.
Last week, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya had also alleged a Khalistan angle to the protests, but it is a narrative that has been questioned within the party too.
Meanwhile, the BJP is planning to organise ‘Kisan Chaupals (farmer meetings)’ across the country to make “farmers aware of the provisions of the three farm laws to ensure similar protests don’t erupt in other states”.
“We are open to hold discussions with the farmers and our government has already made it crystal clear,” said Rajkumar Chahar, president of the BJP Kisan Morcha.
“Our government has carried out these reforms for the benefit of the farmers. At the same time, nothing has been taken away from the existing laws such as the MSP. It is still there, but now the farmers have the option of selling it in mandis or the open market,” he added, referring to a key reform that frees farmers from the obligation to sell their produce at mandis.
“A number of political parties are trying to mislead the farmers, which is why we have decided to reach out to villages across the country and make the farmers aware of the reality. We will be be coming out with pamphlets and booklets and organise ‘Kisan Chaupal’ to have a direct dialogue with the farmers,” he added
A BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named said the government as well as the BJP are mindful of not adopting the same strategy they did during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“At that time, no one had realised it would snowball into something big. For quite some time, the party had taken it lightly. But it became a major protest. Hence, this time, we are monitoring the situation closely and ensuring that farmers are aware of the benefits of these laws,” said the leader.
“We are concerned they are protesting in harsh winter nights. We want to resolve the issue,” the leader added.
On Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had offered to negotiate between the farmers and the Modi government to find an amicable solution to the imbroglio.
Urging the protesting farmers to reciprocate Shah’s gesture by accepting his appeal to shift to a designated protest site, he said it will pave the way for early talks to resolve their issues.
Noting that the purpose of their protest was not to block highways and inconvenience people but to pressure the central government to listen to their voice, the Chief Minister said the farmers had “already won half the battle by bringing the Union government to the negotiating table without further delay”.
In the circumstances, the farmers should grab the Union Home Minister’s offer and make the most of the opportunity to resolve the crisis triggered by the central laws, he added.
He said Shah’s offer to hold discussions with farmers at the earliest was in the best interest of the farming community and the nation at large.