Tomar ready for talks; farmer unions unmoved



New Delhi

With the talks between the Centre and the agitating farmer unions stalled since January, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Wednesday expressed readiness to resume the dialogue to resolve their objections to the three new agri laws, but the unions remained adamant on their demands for a repeal of the legislations and a legal guarantee on the minimum support price (MSP).

Amid the deadlock, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal questioned why the central government was not holding talks with farmers, while the Congress batted for accepting the demands of protestors and said Tomar should step down as agriculture minister.

The government has held 11 rounds of talks, the last being on January 22, with the unions to end the farmers’ protest over the laws enacted in September.

“Whenever farmers want discussions, the government of India will be ready for discussion. But we have

repeatedly asked them to tell the objections in the provisions with logic. We will listen and find a solution,” Tomar said on Wednesday at a cabinet briefing.

But the farmer unions claimed the government’s stand was “unjustifiable and unreasonable”.

“Protesting farmers repeat and reiterate once again that the government’s attitude is unjustifiable and unreasonable, and is resting on ego and optics-games. Farmers demand a full repeal of the three central laws and a new legislation to guarantee minimum support price (MSP) for all farmers,” said a statement by Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of agitating farmer unions.

Defending the agri laws, the government has insisted that they will help increase the income of farmers and has said it can consider amendments after talks with the unions.

Major opposition parties have publicly backed the agitation. “Why is it so difficult to talk to the farmers?” Banerjee said in Kolkata after she assured farmer leaders led by Rakesh Tikait and Yudhvir Singh of support to their agitation against the new agriculture laws. “The farmers’ movement is not just for Punjab, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh. It is for the whole country,” she said.

Banerjee also promised to rally opposition-ruled states in support of the agitating farmers, and said she aims to “remove the Narendra Modi government from power”.

The Congress too renewed its attack, with its chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala saying the protesting farmers are not begging but are seeking their rights and the government should shed its stubbornness and agree to their demands.