Farmers Protest: Amit Shah Meeting Inconclusive, What Happens Now?
Farmers are insisting that the three laws be repealed while the government has offered mainly amendments so far.
The meeting of 13 farmers representatives with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday, 8 December, remained inconclusive, with the government unwilling to repeal all three Acts and the unions refusing to settle for anything less.
The next scheduled meeting on Wednesday is also in a limbo now. There were three major developments on Tuesday that are now likely to shape what happens next.
Amit Shah Enters Negotiations
Shah called the meeting at short notice on Tuesday, even as unions and Opposition parties carried out a moderately successful Bharat Bandh.
The list of representatives invited was interesting as it left out the biggest farmers’ outfit from Punjab – Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan). Ugrahan is also known to be the toughest of the unions and least likely to compromise.
Given the high degree of distrust from the protesting farmers towards the government, there were fears that keeping BKU (Ugrahan) out was the government's way of sowing divisions within the unions.
The distrust further increased when the venue of the meeting was abruptly changed from Amit Shah's VK Krishna Menon residence to the ICAR Guest House at Pusa.
The change of venue made one of the representatives Rudru Singh Mansa to turn back but he was later called back to the meeting.
Many protesters saw the change of venue as power play on the part of the government.
In the meeting itself, the government is said to have proposed a number of amendments to address some of the farmers' concerns but it categorically refused to repeal all three laws.
The farmers' unions, on the other hand, were clear that they wouldn't settle for anything less than repeal of the three laws.
After the meeting, Dr Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union said, “We can’t soften our stand. We have vowed in front of the people of Punjab, that we won’t return or lift the protest till laws are repealed. This agitation will go on.”
BKU’s Rakesh Tikait said, “The meeting was positive. The government will give a proposal to farmer leaders which will be discussed. We want withdrawal of the three farm bills but the government wants amendments in the bills.”
Balbir Singh Rajewal, who heads his own faction of BKU-Punjab told a Punjabi channel that he asked Amit Shah, “Do you think we are urban naxals or that we are backed by Congress?”
A presentation of the government's proposals is likely to be submitted to the unions and the next stage of negotiations will take place only after that.
The unions are expected to meet on Wednesday to decide their strategy.
The Bharat Bandh, though a symbolic Bandh lasting less than half a day, was successful in terms of its geographical reach. According to reports, there were over 20,000 protest sites spread across 22 states.
The idea of the Bandh was to show that the movement against the three farm laws isn't restricted to just Punjab and Haryana and it was successful in fulfilling that aim.
The Bandh, in some ways, was a short trailer of what could lie ahead if the government doesn't climb down.
According to a reports, as many as seven out of 10 MLAs of the BJP's alliance partner – the Jannayak Janata Party – are said to be in support of the farmers' agitation.
The BJP, which has 40 MLAs in the 90-member Assembly, five short of the halfway mark, is critically dependent on the JJP's support.
There is increasing pressure on JJP leader and deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala to resign and back the protesting farmers.
Even in his own village in Sirsa district, residents have given a two-day ultimatum to Dushyant Chautala and Power Minister Ranjit Chautala, to resign from their posts or face hukka paani band or social boycott.
A potential fall of the Haryana government is the biggest immediate political cost that the BJP could face due to the farm laws.
Part of the reason why the BJP is carrying out negotiations is that use of force may put the Haryana government in jeopardy.
What Could Happen Next?
With the meeting now unclear, the major event on 9 December would be the Opposition delegation to meet President Ram Nath Kovind. The delegation is likely to include NCP chief Sharad Pawar, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi and CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, among others.
While the meeting is of immense symbolic value, indicating the Opposition’s commitment to supporting the farmers’ protests, it may not yield much. And the real battle will go on at two levels – between the protesting farmers and the government, and within the Jannayak Janata Party.
From the point of view of farmers, the problem is that the government isn't yet seeing any major political loss by virtue of passing these laws, barring the possible fall of the Haryana government. It is already a non-entity in rural Punjab. Regarding other states, the BJP has gone by the examples of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where agrarian unrest didn't quite lead to a political debacle for it.
On the other hand, the prospect of further unrest in the country as well as international embarrassment could prevent the government from launching a crackdown on the protests.
The government has also so far failed to drive a wedge between the farm unions. In fact, it is the resentment among the common farmers that have pushed the unions to put up a united front. In such a scenario, it would be difficult for any union, particularly those from Punjab, to break ranks and strike a deal.
So, the present situation is a stalemate, which won't change unless the political cost of the laws increases for the government, or if the farmers unions' resolve breaks, which is unlikely.
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