Point Of No Return


Widening gap between the central government and farmers unions

WITH neither the central government nor the farmers unions willing to climb down from their position, the seventh round of talks between protesting unions and three central ministers to resolve the more than a month-long protest ended inconclusively on Monday. Their talks were mainly related to the three newly passed laws. The Minimum Support Price, another key demand of the farmers, was not on the agenda. The ministers refused to give in to the demand of the farmers to repeal the three “hastily passed laws,” insisting that they were aimed at bringing about reforms in the agriculture sector. The farmers’ representatives would not have anything less than the repeal of the three contentious farm laws. Though the talks ended in a stalemate, the two sides have agreed to meet again on January 8. With no resolution in sight, the leaders of farmers’ unions have said they would consult their members on Tuesday to decide their next course of action. They alleged that the central government was standing on its prestige and that was coming in the way of finding a solution. 

The stand of the farmers’ unions from the beginning has been that the Centre must repeal the laws which, they said, threatened their security as farmers and owners of lands. They have stuck to the stand through all meetings they had with the ministers of the central government. They would not agree to setting up committees to resolve the issues. The Centre on the other hand wants the unions to raise issues related to problematic clauses in the farm laws so that they can be discussed and settled. Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has expressed optimism for finding a solution to the issues at the next meeting and we hope there is a basis for his optimism. That basis can only be some signs from the camp of the farmers that they would agree to a clause-wise discussion of the laws. If the farmers unions gave no such signs, Tomar cannot take forward the talks and it is unlikely that a resolution could be reached at the next round of meeting.

Tomar’s statement that the central government would discuss the new laws with representatives of farmers’ organisations from other states might be seen by the protesters as an attempt to create divisions in the farming community. The Centre should desist from dividing the farmers and getting the approval of one section to score brownie points with the agitating farmers. The farming community that feeds the nation deserves better treatment and its image should not be sullied by calling the agitating farmers names. Having underestimated the resolve of the farmers in seeking justice the central government first ignored their threats of agitation. Had a consultative approach been adopted during the passage of the law and farmers taken on board, the situation of confrontation could have been avoided. The farmers unions that have been protesting appear to be getting ready for a long-term fight. Their numbers are increasing with every passing day.

It is surprising to note that while hosting talks with the agitating farmers, the Centre does not appear to consider any of the demands of the agitating farmers other than promising to discuss three laws point by point. The farmers’ union leaders have accused Tomar of trying to intimidate the agrarian community by telling the farm leaders that they could approach the Supreme Court to get the laws repealed. It is obvious that the court of law would not find any defect in a law that is passed with due process and sufficient majority in the two houses of Parliament. The issue the farmers unions are raising is not the legality of the laws, but the perils they bring to the farmers. On their side, the farmers are also doing certain things wrong, like damaging telecom towers. They are now planning a big procession on the Republic Day. It would be in the interest of the solemnity of the national event that they avoid any protest on that day. Rather than taking the confrontation to dangerous and ridiculous levels, both the central government and the farmers unions must find ways to reach a negotiated settlement that benefits all.