How talks froze: Center says we caved, farmers insist repeal has always been key request

Written by Harikishan Sharma, Manraj Grewal Sharma | New Delhi |

Updated: December 15, 2020 2:56:47 PM

Farmers’ union leaders arrive at Vigyan Bhavan for the fifth round of government talks, in New Delhi on December 5, 2020 (photo expressed: Amit Mehra)

On October 13, the number one element in the memorandum issued by the protesting farmers was the request for the repeal of the three central agricultural laws approved at a controversial session of the Rajya Sabha on September 20.

Today, December 9, after six rounds of talks, which involved over 20 hours of deliberations, protests on the streets of Punjab, Haryana and the capital, the leaders of the farmers returned to emphasizing the same item.

This lack of movement has strengthened the division and represents the main challenge as both sides work on their next steps.

Government officials said they “gave in” and provided “assurances” based on exactly what the peasants had asked for during the talks with Vigyan Bhavan.

“They asked for assurances on MSP and tax parity and on the court trial. If repeal was the only request, then what was there to discuss in six rounds? “said a senior government official.” We have given the guarantees that the farmers were asking for. “

Not really, farmers say.

Indeed, they point out that the request for repeal was consistent with the wiring MSP in the law and it is the government that has been misunderstanding.📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

In the first round of talks with the Center that took place between 29 representatives of Punjab agricultural unions and the Secretary of the Agricultural Union Sanjay Agarwal on October 14 in Krishi Bhawan, the leaders of the farmers had made a series of requests.

These included the repeal of agricultural laws and the electricity amendment law, 2020; legally guarantee public procurement on the minimum support price; withdrawal of the electricity law (amendment), 2020; withdrawal of registered cases against activists and protesters; and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report to correct the MSP with the C2 + 50% formulas.

Jamhuri Kisan Sabha’s secretary general, Kulwant Singh Sandhu, said: “In the first round of talks we sent a letter to the Secretary, in which he set out our eight requests. These demands included the repeal of three agricultural laws. ”He said this was never taken off the table.

A memorandum signed by a dozen agricultural union representatives and presented in Agarwal on October 14 also mentions it among their requests.

After the fifth round of talks with the Center on 5 December, the farmers reiterated their request for repeal. Even when Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced that the government was willing to reconsider some of the provisions of agricultural laws to bring samyata (level playing field) between APMC mandates and private markets, farmers’ leaders have strengthened their position.

“We had mobilized people on the question of repeal. We have decided not to return until three laws are repealed and two invoices are withdrawn, ”Sandhu told The Indian Express.

Earlier, as protests spread to Punjab’s Malwa region on July 27, 11 unions had traveled on tractors from their respective villages and presented memoranda to their MPs against the ordinances at the time.

The protests got a big boost when all 31 farmers’ unions in Punjab, including the khet mazdoor (farm laborers), agreed to work in coordination on 19 August.

Their memoranda to the Prime Minister and the Punjab government also focused largely on the issue of repealing the ordinances and guaranteeing the MSP.

On December 5, 2020, Agriculture Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar speaks to media outside Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi (photo expressed: Amit Mehra)

Protests escalated after the three laws were passed. On September 23, all 31 farmers’ unions announced the “rail roko” agitation from October 1, along with dharna outside shopping malls, company gas stations and even outside the residences of BJP leaders.

This was again accompanied by a growing demand for the repeal of the three laws. There was also a consensus that if the government were to ensure the continuation of the MSP – by law – and the APMCs as well as making changes to regulate private actors, farmers would be appeased.

However, once the peasants reached Delhi. the maximalist request for repeal has strengthened. “The government heard what they wanted to hear,” said a farmer leader. “We always wanted these laws to be repealed.”

A section of government officials attributed the hardening of the peasants’ position to the presence of leftist leaders on the negotiating team. “They have strong ideological opposition to the government,” an official said. “They will never give up, there are more than 35 representatives and left-wing leaders dominate the speech.”

The government hopes to eliminate some of these groups among the 35, but given the united front they have presented by rejecting the government’s assurances and calling for their repeal, it could be a challenge.

Clearly, the fault lines are drawn.

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