With the farmer groups clinging to the maximalist position that nothing less than the abrogation of the laws would be acceptable to them, both sides could not even decide on the date of the next round of talks.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait addresses farmers at Ghazipur border in New Delhi on Saturday (PTI Image)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday assured the Opposition parties of his government’s resolve to find a resolution to the over two-months-old farmers’ protest. Speaking at the customary all-party meeting ahead of the Budget session that starts from Monday, Modi said the Centre’s offer to put on hold the three contentious agriculture-marketing laws for 12-18 months still holds. The government is willing to hold another round of talks with the agitating farmer unions, he added.
Sharing the details of the meeting chaired by Modi and attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said, “The PM assured that the Centre is approaching the farmers issue with an open mind. He said the Centre’s stand is the same as it was on January 22, the last meeting between farmers and the Centre. Modiji reiterated what Tomarji had said — that he (Narendra Singh Tomar) is a phone call away for talks,” Joshi quoted Modi.
The Opposition had boycotted President’s address to Parliament, citing the government’s ‘mishandling’ of the protest. The government wants to the Budget session to be smooth, given the need for important legislative work and the passage of the Budget, which is key to economic revival.
Exasperated over the obduracy displayed by the agitating farmer unions despite the conciliatory offer to put the three farm laws in abeyance for 12-18 months, the Centre on January 22 hardened its stance and conveyed to the unions that it can’t yield any more, causing further uncertainty over when and how the strike will end. With the farmer groups clinging to the maximalist position that nothing less than the abrogation of the laws would be acceptable to them, both sides could not even decide on the date of the next round of talks.
Following the breakdown in talks, farmer unions concentrated on the January 26 tractor march which ended in violence at some parts of the national capital, leading to filing of 25 FIRs by Delhi Police in which 394 of its personnel got injured. As the violence resulted in farmers losing public sympathy, the Centre as well as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments started a crackdown. Several protest sites and toll plaza at different places in the two states have been cleared, so far.
However, some alleged involvement of BJP leaders in creating disturbance at Ghazipur on evening of January 28 infuriated farmers who returned to the protest site in large number. There was an emergency meeting of over 50,000 farmers in Muzaffarnagar on Friday wherein they decided to send one member of each family to the protest site. The Ghaziabad district administration after failing to execute an eviction order has imposed Section 144 to prohibit people from the gathering.
Similar disturbances were attempted as some ‘local residents’ with police help clashed with farmers of one organisation at Singhu border while a few others tried to evict farmers at Tikri border. “Any crackdown will further inflame the protest and more farmers will join,” Shiv Kumar Sharma, president of president of Rashtriya Kisan Mahashangha said, adding they will continue the agitation while ready for any unconditional talks. However, he clarified that the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front) will decide on the PM’s statement.