Talks between the farmer leaders and the Centre broke down on Wednesday, when farmer unions rejected the government’s offer to amend the new farm laws and announced they would intensify their agitation. I was a bit surprised and sad, too. The government sincerely wanted a solution to the standoff, but the farmer leaders stuck to their ‘yes or no’ stand. The farmer leaders are still saying they are not averse to talks, but any discussion can proceed further only if the new laws are withdrawn.
The government’s stand is quite clear. The three new farm laws will not be withdrawn, but the grievances of farmers will be addressed and the laws will be amended. The government has made it clear that it would not allow political attempts to browbeat the Centre. The government had been trying its best to continue with its communication with the farmer unions, but the farmer leaders have now sounded the war bugle. They have now vowed to fight to the finish.
Who are the leaders who are trying to sabotage the talks? It was surprising to watch the intimidating tone of some farmer leaders on Wednesday. They were mouthing the same dialogues that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi used to deliver at his rallies and posting in his tweets. The sentences used by two farmer leaders at their press conference almost match with those used in the memorandum submitted to the President by five opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar. It appears as if the 22 opposition parties and the farmers’ groups want a confrontation with the Centre, similar to the Shaheen Bagh agitation. Efforts are on to create an anti-CAA like atmosphere.
The question arises: what did the Centre say or do which raised the heckles of the farmer leaders? The fact remains that the farmer leaders had already made up their mind to reject the government’s offers and intensify their agitation, even before the 21-page draft from the Centre reached them. On Tuesday evening itself, the farmer leaders had told Home Minister Amit Shah and the two Union Ministers, Piyush Goyal and Narendra Singh Tomar, that nothing short of a repeal of the new laws was acceptable to them. For them, there was no middle path.
The Tuesday meeting failed because the Home Minister had initially invited five to six farm leaders, who had an open mind and who knew that the agitation cannot continue forever. These leaders had respect in their hearts for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and wanted a solution to be found out. These farmer leaders had been saying openly that anybody was free to say anything about Modi, but no one can say he is anti-farmer. When other farmer groups knew about the talks that was going to take place with Amit Shah, they sent leaders who were stridently anti-government and had extreme views against the Centre. At the meeting, the farmer leaders, who had moderate views, remained silent, when these leaders with extreme views started speaking and torpedoed the conciliation move.
In its offer sent on Wednesday, the Centre promised to give written assurance to continue with the Minimum Support Price system and the APMC ‘mandis’, agreed to the farmers’ demand that private operators seeking to buy produce from the farmers must get themselves registered, and state government could collect ‘mandi tax’ from these private traders. The government also promised to incorporate provisions not to allow private operators from purchase, lease and mortgage of farmer’s land and prohibit them from making permanent constructions on farm land. The Centre also promised to consider farmers’ objections to Air Quality Management of NCR Ordinance, 2020 brought in the wake of air pollution caused in the National Capital Region by burning of ‘parali’ (stubble).
While rejecting the Centre’s offers, the farmer leaders gave a call to boycott products manufactured and marketed by Ambani and Adani groups. They also announced their move to ‘gherao’ BJP leaders. How can all these be part of a farmers’ agitation? The farmers’ agitation has now been fully politicized. Political leaders who are opposed to Narendra Modi have hijacked the farmers’ movement.
On Tuesday, when the farmer leaders were addressing a press conference, five opposition leaders, Rahul Gandhi (Congress), Sharad Pawar (NCP), Elangovan (DMK), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) and D. Raja (CPI) met the President demanding repeal of the farm laws. Rahul Gandhi later described the farm laws as ‘Ambani Adani laws’ that needed to be repealed. The tone and tenor of both Rahul Gandhi and those of the farmer leaders were the same.
I was not surprised when Rahul Gandhi alleged that the Modi government was favouring Ambani and Adani groups. He has been making these allegations since last six years, when he first opposed the land acquisition bills, during demonetization, and during the Uttarakhand and Haryana assembly polls, which his party lost. During last year’s Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi went to rallies where he alleged that Modi had given Rs 30,000 crore benefit to Anil Ambani through the Rafale deal, but the people of India rejected his charges at the hustings. Even his own party leaders advised Rahul to avoid making such allegations as it was harming the party prospects. The farmer leaders must learn a lesson from this.
There are advisers who are advising the farmer leaders to take an extreme stand and reject anything short of repeal of the farm laws. They have been telling them that if they remain adamant, the government would yield. They pointed out how the government opened up the highways, when the farmers marching to Delhi persisted. They have also pointed how the government yielded when the farmers refused to go to Burari ground to stage dharna. They have pointed out how the government yielded when the farmer leaders said there must be no pre-conditions for talks. Similarly, on Tuesday, when Home Minister Amit Shah began speaking about the offers the government was going to make, these leaders stuck to their old stand: first repeal the laws.
The farmer leaders are listening to their advisers who are telling them to carry on with their extreme stand and put pressure on the government to achieve ‘victory’. Fortunately, there are also leaders among the farmers who have been saying that the government’s eagerness for talks should not be construed as weakness. These leaders have pointed out that there can never be a solution if they have ‘professional protesters’ like Medha Patkar and Yogendra Yadav in their midst.
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