Union Home Minister Amit Shah told a select group of farmers’ leaders late on Tuesday that the Centre would not repeal the three contentious farm sector laws on a day that saw nationwide road blockades and peaceful protests in support of the demand for a rollback of the legislations.
Mr. Shah said the Centre will give a written proposal of the amendments it is willing to make to the three laws by Wednesday morning, All India Kisan Sabha leader Hannan Mollah told journalists after the meeting.
As a result of meeting, the sixth round of talks with all the farmers’ unions will not be held on Wednesday as scheduled, he added. In the meantime, farmer groups have been asked to consider the Centre’s proposals.
Mr. Mollah reiterated that farmers groups are demanding a full repeal of the laws and will not be content with amendments.
However, it is not known if all the groups are still holding that position. Mr. Shah met with 13 farmer leaders. By calling a select group, some divisions appear to have been created among the farmer groups.
The unexpected meeting with the Home Minister came hours after farm unions under the banner of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha claimed that more than 50 lakh people participated in the Bharat Bandh call at 20,000 locations across the country. At least 25 political parties supported the bandh, along with trade unions, retail and transport associations and many professional bodies.
The bandh affected normal life across large parts of northern India, especially Punjab, as well as Odisha, and the southern States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Large numbers of protestors and leaders, including several legislators, were detained during the day, both pre-emptively and during the agitation. Major highways around Delhi, and in parts of northern India were blocked in a chakka jam until 3 p.m.
At a press conference on the Singhu border, farmer leaders claimed success.
“It is very clear today that the struggle is not just restricted to Punjab, and not just restricted to farmers. This has become a struggle across all sections of society in India. The government of India now knows it doesn’t have a way out,” said Gurnam Singh Chaduni, leader of one of the biggest factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in Haryana.
The Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, which had two leaders in the meeting, said the written proposal would cover the Centre’s stand on all of the farmers’ demands, and not only on amendments to the laws.
“After receiving the government's written proposal, the farmer leaders will meet and formulate their own strategy. Farmer leaders are adamant on all our demands: repealing the three agricultural laws, enforcing an MSP guarantee law, withdrawal of the Electricity Bill, 2020 and the withdrawal of fines for stubble burning,” said RKMS spokesperson Abhimanyu Kohar.
So far, the official talks have taken place at Vigyan Bhavan, led by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on the government side. On the farmers’ side, the delegation has included representatives from all 32 of the Punjab unions, plus a few leaders from other regions and national outfits. The farmers’ alliance have previously rejected the government’s suggestion to form a smaller group to debate the details of the three laws.
However, on Tuesday, Mr. Shah reached out to the farmers groups suggesting an “informal” or “unofficial” meeting with 13-14 representatives at his residence at 7 pm, some leaders told The Hindu. The Punjab unions selected nine leaders, to be accompanied by Rakesh Tikait of a Bharatiya Kisan Union faction in Uttar Pradesh, Gurnam Singh Chaduni of another BKU faction in Haryana, Shiv Kumar Kakkaji of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh and Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha.
At the last minute, the venue was shifted to the National Agricultural Science Complex, Pusa, and the meeting began after 8 pm. Some leaders met Mr. Shah at his residence before the meeting began, according to some sources. One leader, Rudru Singh Mansa was disgruntled by the venue change, and initially headed back to the Singhu border, before being convinced to attend the meeting.
Joginder Singh, president of BKU-Ugrahan, who was not included in the meeting, said the unions should not have gone to meet Mr. Shah separately as the move would create “misunderstanding among struggling people.”
He added that BKU-Ugrahan had previously been approached twice for separate talks with the government, but they refused the offer. “We had always stuck to the demand that all organisations should be invited jointly. Our organisation is sticking to the demand of withdrawal of all the anti-farmer laws, to enact a law for procurement of all farm produce at Minimum Support Price throughout the country and strengthen the Public Distribution System,” he said. He added that struggling farmers shall not accept anything less than these demands.