Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 8
A day before the government’s crucial sixth round of talks with representatives of protesting farmers, Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday met a select group of union leaders in a bid to break the deadlock.
Sources said 13 farmer leaders were called for the meeting, which began after 8 pm. The farmer leaders included eight from Punjab and five from various nationwide organisations.
Sources said the participating leaders included Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha and Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).
Some farmer leaders said they first expected the meeting would take place at Shah’s residence here but the venue was shifted to National Agricultural Science Complex, Pusa.
The meeting came on a day a ‘Bharat Bandh’ observed by farmers to press their demand affected life in some states.
Farmers’ ‘Bharat Bandh’ to push for repeal of central farm laws disrupted life in several places with shops closed, transport affected and protesters squatting on roads and train tracks, though many states also remained largely unaffected.
Interestingly, as the day wound to a mostly peaceful close and farmers termed their show of strength a success.
Though leaders said “we will demand just a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ from Home Minister Amit Shah”, before proceeding for the meeting, which was seen as a positive move to break the weeks-long impasse, the sudden move also led to a divide among ‘jathebandis’.
Only 13 of the 40 unions who are part of the Centre-farmer talks had been invited and the biggest of them all — BKU Ekta (Ugrahan) — was not one of them, though officials and farmer leaders insisted that names were “unanimously and mutually decided”.
Meanwhile, some names on the list, leaders with known political leanings, such as Rakesh Tikait, Hannan Mollah and Shiv Kumar Kakkaji, also led to criticism and high drama ahead of the important meeting.
The meeting, however, appeared to have created discord among the organisations spearheading the protests on Delhi’s borders for the past 12 days with the head of the BKU (Ugrahan), which is one of the largest outfits in the bloc, questioning the rationale of the talks a day before the scheduled official consultations.
Reacting to the Home Minister’s important invite, BKU (Ugrahan) president Joginder Singh Ugrahan said farmer leaders “should not have gone to meet him separately because it creates misunderstanding among those struggling for their rights”.
Ugrahan said though Amit Shah had approached him for talks twice separately, he refused and demanded that all organisations be invited jointly.
“We are sticking to the demand of withdrawal of all five anti-farmer laws, to enact law for procurement of all farm produce at MSP throughout the country and strengthening the PDS. Struggling farmers will not accept anything less,” Ugrahan said.
However, BKU (Dakonda) “appealed to all supporters of the farmers’ protest that its not a division of any sort”.
“It is just another regular meeting called on short notice. All organisations sent a delegation to attend it. Nothing can be finished or finalised in this meeting,” the union said.
In a social media post, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who was not invited to the meeting with Shah, said there was no need for the talks before official consultations and hoped that the leaders attending today’s meet would keep in mind the view of the larger group.
Farmer leaders have been firm on their demand for repeal of three new farm laws enacted in September, which they claim will benefit corporates and end the mandi system and the minimum support price (MSP) regime.
Interestingly, some leaders also raised objection to the Home Minister’s residence as the venue though officials blamed it on “communication gap”.
While it is a known fact that Shah only steps in when something concrete is in sight, some unions from Haryana have also extended support to the government on the three laws and asked Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar that “three Acts are not repealed”.
Tomar, too, advised “Opposition parties to stop playing politics on the issue related to the welfare of farmers”.
“The Prime Minister is trying his best to bring agriculture on rails and political parties should stop playing politics on the issue,” he said.
Sources said Shah also tried to reason with leaders on the same lines, expanding on the benefits of the laws at the meeting, in which Tomar was also present.
A Cabinet meeting is planned tomorrow ahead of the farmers’ meeting with the union leaders, sources say.
However, while the Centre may be ready for some amendments, farmers say “there can be no midway”.
Meanwhile, ahead of the meeting, farmer leaders said they would just listen (to Shah) and take the Centre’s proposal back for discussion with other unions. The fact is while the BJP-led Centre is under pressure to resolve the issue, farmer leaders are also under pressure to not give in.
The government has maintained that it is committed to the welfare of farmers and have presented these laws as major reforms for their benefits.
The government’s sixth round of talks with representatives of farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders against three new farm laws is scheduled to be held on Wednesday. — With PTI