Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 8
Much was expected from the surprise meeting between farmer’ unions and Home Minister Amit Shah, after the ‘Bharat bandh’ on Tuesday night.
However, like previous four meetings with the government representatives, this one too ended inconclusively, though officials claimed “significant ground” was achieved with those interested in the “middle path” on three contentious farm laws.
Meanwhile, the government will send a proposal tomorrow to discuss which unions will hold a talk at 12 noon.
Farmer leader Hannan Mollah said the scheduled talk on Wednesday with Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Piyush Goyal will not be held.
Though Shah proposed another round of talks on December 10, unions said they would decide on it after going through the Centre’ proposal tomorrow.
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.
“We will decide whether or not to go for the meeting tomorrow at 12 noon at Singhu border, said AIKS leader and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Hannan Mollah after meeting Amit Shah.
“The minister said they will give their proposals on amendments tomorrow…They are not ready for rolling back the laws,” Mollah added.
“We told them we have been discussing the same thing for the past five meetings. They should have given proposals six months back. Maybe there would have been discussions then. Since they are not ready to retreat, it seems improbable that we will attend the meeting,” he said.
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.
President of the Krantikari Kisan Union Darshan Pal said: “Shah again started talking about what we have been hearing and discussing all this while. He said they will send a fresh proposal. We will see the proposal and decide on the next meeting with the government. We had much hopes from this meeting given the stature of Amit Shah in the Narendra Modi government.”
Apparently, Shah said the government was ready give written assurance on issues related to stubble burning, MSP, the APMC, stock limits and, Power Act.
“There were indications on amendments but the government is not ready to roll back the laws. The issue will continue for long…we are getting more support for our cause,” Darshan Pal said.
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.