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Another round of talks over the farm laws is scheduled for December 9, a day after the Bharat Bandh call given by the protesting farmers. Saturday’s meeting between the Union ministers and farmers’ leaders, the third of the week and fifth overall, did raise hopes for a brief moment that a solution could be in sight. The Prime Minister’s consultation with Cabinet colleagues hours before was seen as a pointer to a softening of the Centre’s stand, especially since going back or having a relook at decisions it has projected as bold and revolutionary has not been the Modi government’s style. The farm leaders, for now, are refusing to budge over their core demand for repeal of the legislation.

The agitation has been bolstered by a wave of popular support, exemplified by the daily announcements of eminent sportspersons, writers and other people of repute returning national awards. Singers and artistes have lent an emotional chord; many have chosen to mark their presence at the protest sites. A sense of urgency while recognising the scale and scope of the crisis at hand will perhaps force a climbdown to reach a middle ground sooner rather than later. As the negotiations continue, both sides also need to lower the tempo of acrimony. The protest organisers have to double up efforts for maintaining the vibe of a peaceful congregation of citizens otherwise upset and angry. The ruling BJP has an even bigger responsibility, to ensure that a divisive narrative is not allowed to take shape and discourage attempts to discredit dissent.

Rail services have remained paralysed in Punjab for the past over two months as part of the protests, but it took the march towards the national capital for New Delhi to take notice. Now that the protesters are being heard and seen, the Union Agriculture Minister’s appeal to let senior citizens, who have a sizeable presence at the protest sites, and children go home will go unnoticed.

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