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Punjab farmers accept Modi govt’s offer to talk, but cracks emerge in their unity

Seven leaders will represent farmer bodies’ conglomerate AIKSCC in Wednesday’s talks with Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal.

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Chandigarh: Punjab’s protesting farmers Tuesday agreed to meet Union Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal for talks in Delhi Wednesday.

Agarwal had Monday extended an invitation to members of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a conglomerate of 30 farmers’ bodies that have been agitating against the Narendra Modi government’s three new farm laws that were passed by Parliament last month.

The farmers had rejected the government’s offer for talks last week, but at a meeting Tuesday evening, the AIKSCC decided to meet Agarwal.

“It has been decided today to accept the offer. But the protests will continue. Moreover, we are not expecting much from the talks. We have decided to meet so that an impression is not created that Punjab farmers are stubborn and are being unreasonable,” said Dr Darshan Pal, convener of the AIKSCC and a member of the seven-person delegation who will meet the agriculture secretary.

“Our demand is simple and straight — scrap the acts,” Pal insisted.

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Divisions out in open

The farmers in Punjab have been sitting on “permanent” dharnas at the toll plazas and railway tracks. They are protesting outside Reliance-owned stores and petrol pumps, since they think the new laws are designed to benefit Mukesh Ambani’s conglomerate as well as the Adani Group. The farmers are also gheraoing BJP leaders in the state.

However, divisions between the farmer bodies over various issues came out in the open Tuesday after members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) didn’t attend the meeting, though Darshan Pal downplayed this.

“BKU Ugrahan was coordinating with us, synchronising its efforts with our decisions. Though it did not attend today’s meeting, we have been told that it too will be meeting Agarwal tomorrow,” he said.

BKU (Dakonda) leader Jagmohan Singh also presented a united front, saying 29 of the 30 constituents of the AIKSCC attended Tuesday’s meeting.

However, the BKU (Ugrahan) has also decided to end the ‘rail roko’ demonstrations that its volunteers had been conducting. The move comes after Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh last week asked farmers to vacate train tracks so that essential services are not hampered.

The state government also pointed out that since trains haven’t been allowed to run, there is now an acute shortage of coal to run Punjab’s power plants, and if services are not normalised, the state could face power outages.

However, Pal insisted: “It was unanimously decided last week that the rail roko will continue, but now the Ugrahan group has taken a different view. It is their decision. The rest of the bodies will take a common decision on 15 October when we meet again.”

He also said it was unfortunate that the Ugrahan group could not wait for another two days before calling off the rail roko agitation.

Another division emerged among the 29 attending bodies, with one group that is protesting in the Amritsar region objecting to meeting the Centre. “But everyone else was in agreement,” said Jagmohan Singh.

Meeting with Punjab minister

The farmer bodies also held a meeting with Punjab cabinet minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, who assured them that the government was looking for a legal solution to the problem.

The farmer bodies had met CM Amarinder on 29 September and were assured that a special session of the assembly would be called over the three farm acts. The farmer bodies had given an ultimatum to the government that if the special session is not called by 15 October, they would start protesting against Congress leaders as well.

“A cabinet meeting has been called tomorrow and we are expecting that a special session will be announced soon,” AIKSCC’s Pal said.

Also read: Not all farmers are against Modi’s new farm laws, this group in Maharashtra is celebrating


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