Round 7 of Talks Fail: Govt Avoiding Core Issue, Say Farm Unions
The next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place on 8 January and even that may be under a cloud.
The seventh round of talks between the Narendra Modi government and farmers' unions remained inconclusive on Monday 4 January and the main bone of contention is the repeal of the three farm laws. The next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place on 8 January and even that may be under a cloud.
What Transpired at the Meeting
The discussions began with the government represented by Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Parkash joining the kisan union leaders in observing two minutes silence for the farmers who have lost their lives during the course of the protests.
However, this common ground proved to be shortlived as the government insisted on discussing amendments and not the repeal of the three farm laws, which is the main demand of the farmers.
The pre-lunch session was mostly dedicated to the Union ministers trying to explain to the farmers what amendments could be brought to the three laws.
During that session, the ministers also claimed that farmers across the country support the farm laws, a claim that was contested by the farmers' representatives.
When it became clear that the government had no intention of even discussing the repeal of the three laws, the farmers' representatives became restive.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) chief Joginder Singh Ugrahan is reported to have said that he's not interested in the clause-by-clause discussion as proposed by the government.
"We aren't here to play merry go round," Ugrahan is reported to have said, according to author Amaan Bali who has been tracking the protests and talks closely.
The unions insisted that the government begin discussing modalities to repeal the three laws, while the latter wanted to discuss the issue of Minimum Support Prices.
Some of the Union representatives refused to continue with the discussions unless the repeal is part of the agenda. Union MoS for Commerce Som Parkash, who hails from Punjab, had to placate them into attending while Goyal and Tomar went on a phone call outside.
The representatives did come back into the conference room but decided to "remain silent".
The meeting ended a little after that and the MSP issue didn't get discussed.
The Unions say that there's no point in discussing MSP as it is meaningless if there are no Mandis.
Story Behind the Deadlock
The bonhomie between the government and the unions had visibly reduced compared to the last meeting on 30 December, during which the ministers partook of the langar brought for the farmers by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee. This didn't happen this time, as the farmers sat on the floor and ate the langar that the DSGMC had brought for them, while the government had the official lunch.
Also the meeting wasn't preceded by public pronouncements of a thaw from the governments' side, as had happened with Rajnath Singh and Som Parkash's statements in the run-up to the sixth round of talks.
In the sixth round of talks, the government did say that they would provide exemptions to farmers in the Electricity Act and on the matter of stubble burning.
But it was clearly in a much less conciliatory mood this time, with its adamant refusal to even begin discussing the repeal of the three laws.
However, this is not unexpected.
The Quint had earlier reported that there is a fundamental difference in the point of view of the government and farmers.
On one hand, the government is completely convinced about the need for the three laws.
It doesn’t see increasing influence of a few corporates in the agriculture sector as a bad thing. Far from it, the government actively thinks that boosting Indian corporate giants and creating conditions for them to compete in the world stage is in the national interest.
On the other hand, the farmers see the three farm laws as a death knell for their livelihood.
Especially in Punjab, the farmers say that due to the Green Revolution, they compromised on the sustainability of their agriculture – especially water table and soil quality – so that the food security needs of the country could be satisfied. So the government now withdrawing support and making them vulnerable to corporate interests, is seen as a betrayal.
This difference lies at the core of the ongoing deadlock.
Therefore, the only halfway measure that is possible is if the government agrees to stay the three farm laws for a fixed period and a time-bound committee is set up to draft new laws that address farmers' concerns while also implementing the government's reforms.
What Happens Next
The farmers are now likely to meet on 5 January to discuss their next course of action. Even their participation in the 8 January talks is doubtful and will be decided in Tuesday's meeting.
In all probability the unions will also intensify their agitation.
Meanwhile the Punjab BJP, which has been facing intense protests from farmers, is expected to send a delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow.
Some of these leaders like Surjeet Kumar Jayani, have been actively acting as intermediaries between the government and farmers and it is likely that they would convey some of the concerns to the PM.
The Centre and BJP state governments in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are likely to strengthen security arrangments to prevent further movement of farmers towards Delhi, especially given the farm unions announcement of a nationwide farmers' march to Delhi on Republic Day 26 January.
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