Time for fruitful talks

With the farmers’ agitation having reached its doorstep, the Centre is yet to extend a formal invitation for talks with the protesters over the contentious farm laws. The Union government can’t escape blame for letting the situation come to such a pass. Some leaders of the ruling party have been quick to vilify the protesting farmers, calling them Khalistan supporters, Congress puppets and anti-national elements. The unleashing of paramilitary forces on the peaceful marchers — pitting the jawan against the kisan — amounted to blatant use of brute force. The Centre has been reiterating that the laws are in the interests of farmers, but the latter remain unconvinced, fearing the abolition of the time-tested mandi system and the MSP regime. The yawning chasm between the two sides was visible on Sunday. Even as the farmers rejected an appeal by Home Minister Amit Shah to shift to the designated protest ground at Burari, PM Modi, in his Mann ki Baat, claimed that the newly enacted legislations had already started benefiting peasants financially and bestowing new rights on them.

Agriculture was the only sector that managed to register growth in the April-June quarter, which bore the brunt of a stringent lockdown. During the July-September quarter, too, the sector grew by 3.4 per cent, even as the recession-hit economy shrunk by 7.5 per cent. Such resilience during a pandemic should have dissuaded the government from tinkering with a system which, though imperfect, was largely running like clockwork. Instead, it insisted on introducing sweeping reforms without developing consensus among the stakeholders.

The farm leaders have been scuttling attempts by Opposition parties to derive political mileage from their agitation. Now, they should seize the opportunity to negotiate with the Centre. We have had enough of verbal assurances about the MSP. It ought to be incorporated in the law as a farmer’s inalienable right. It’s a given that both sides would have to make some concessions so that a middle ground is found. The deadlock must be resolved amicably at the earliest. A prolonged crisis would not only impair the agriculture sector but also impede India’s economic recovery.

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